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1913 Debate Continues


Cheryl raises the question of “Evolutionary psychology” in considering nuclear deterrence.

An intriguing angle. Going to think about this and respond a little later.

17 Responses to “1913 Debate Continues”

  1. Daniel McIntosh Says:

    Evolution is tricky, especially when making predictions.  The interactions between social, cultural, and biological evolution are particularly hard to predict.  Do you feel lucky?

    (Well, do you, punk?)

    I left a slightly more substantive comment on Cheryl’s blog.  Thanks for pointing in the direction of this discussion.

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    Cheryl says "nothing says we must have war".
    I think it would be more accurate to say that nothing says we have ever or can ever not have war.

  3. zen Says:

    I think there is a large time scale aspect here – as well as the complexity Daniel mentions. And the is war hard wired, as Lex suggests, becomes a legitimate question

  4. democratic core Says:

    Pretty abstract discussion, but an interesting one.  I’ll offer my $.02:
    War is a social/political institution.  I don’t think there is any human "instinct" for war.  I think there is a human instinct for competitiveness, which manifests itself as war.  Competitiveness alone, however, does not lead to war.  War requires the additional element of violence.  Violent activities organized and coordinated through social and political institutions equals war.
    I don’t think there is any human "instinct" for violence.  I think that violence is a capability that humans have to which we resort when it is expedient to do so.  However, if competitive ends can be achieved without violence, that is OK with most people.
    In a modern middle-class society such as the US, most people lead their entire lives without having any direct dealings with violence.  Rather, violence is something that is left to certain "specialists" to deal with, namely, the military, law enforcement, and slaughterhouse workers.  For the non-specialists, violence plays no role in their lives (at least no direct role – I like a good steak even if I don’t kill it myself), and again, that is perfectly OK with most people.
    If violence can be largely eliminated at the "micro" level, i.e., the reality of the lives of most middle-class people, then I do not see how it can be argued that there is such a thing as "human nature" that would prevent it also from being largely eliminated at the "macro" level.  Again, it seems to me that what you need is social and political institutions that permit competition to be carried out without violence.
    Of course, we’re a long way from that, and there is a legitimate debate to be had as to whether or not nuclear disarmament is the way to get there.  In other words, it can certainly be argued that currently existing political and social institutions are incapable of preventing organized violence, and in fact actually promote organized violence, and the creation of new institutions is not possible in the foreseeable future, therefore making the abolition of nuclear weapons something that is likely to result in more organized violence (i.e. war), not less.  However, I bristle at the suggestion that there is such a thing as "human nature" that makes war inevitable.

  5. Daniel McIntosh Says:

    Today, what with XGW discussions, I’m not sure what "war" is.  So let’s operationalize it: can we have a world system in which X number of people (1000?  10,000?) will not, in a given time, die as a result of conscious decisions and coordinated actions by others?  I mean to exclude accidents and unanticipated consequences.  Include those and the problem becomes more difficult.

    A capacity for violence is probably hard-wired.  Anyone without it would be at a disadvantage.  You still could have a relatively peaceful society for a long time.  I don’t expect anything will last forever.

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    "I don’t think there is any human "instinct" for violence. "
    This is simply willful ignorance.  Or a person who has no male children of his own.  Or was never in gym class. 
    "the reality of the lives of most middle-class people"
    Protected by a phalanx of cops and prosecutors and others they rarely see.
    I live near the West side of Chicago, so it is harder for me to pretend that there are not bad actors who would loot and pillage my leafy, shady suburban block, rape the women and steal everything that was not nailed down, within hours or at best days of the phalanx going away. 
    "I bristle at the suggestion that there is such a thing as "human nature" that makes war inevitable."
    I bristle at the idea that any other conclusion is rationally possible.   There is a human nature.  It is immutable in historical time-spans, and it means that organized violence is a permanent feature of human life. 
    Only by facing that reality can we start to make decisions that have any prayer of being good ones.

  7. purpleslog Says:

    DC: Chimps and apes and bonbos all have war, why not homo sapiens sapiens?

    As far as "most people lead their entire lives without having any direct dealings with violence" haven’t most kids gotten into a fight at least once, especially when younger?

    "Violent activities organized and coordinated through social and political institutions equals war."

    I would think the following might be more true:

    "Violence occurs between groups when one sides has on balance an incentive to do so. Social and Political institutions can both provide incentives, de-incentives and constants on the type, place and form of violence."

  8. democratic core Says:

    Social and political institutions thrive off of the mythology you recite.  Keep saying it, and it will keep being true.
    BTW my female child is far more violent than my male child.  It is not a mark of his lack of "masculinity" (another pernicious myth) – it is a mark of his laziness.

  9. Lexington Green Says:

    DC, you are funny. 
    I talk about facts I have observed in person, and which are widely known to everyone who is awake and paying attention, not myths.  You are the guy who needs to repeat a mantra to drown the gale of reality, and as usual, the pot calls the kettle black.  Or, these days, does pot call the kettle African-American?
    Masculintiy is a pernicious myth?  Let’s see, we have evolved a two-sexed species for countless millions of years, yet for some unfathomable reason, in defiance of all Darwin teaches, the two genders are — pretty much the same, same strengths, same weaknesses, same capabilities.  That is truly a laugh. 
    Maybe your two kids are outliers.  Let’s see how they are doing in 20 years.  Good luck, Dad, you will need all you can get, especially once your daughter hits her teen years.  

  10. democratic core Says:

    Here are some facts.  Humans have changed biologically and genetically very little over the past 10,000 or even 50,000 years.  Yet, the conditions of our lives have changed dramatically, more dramatically than for any other species.  It seems self-evident to me that social, political, cultural, and economic institutions determine the condition of human life to an infinitely greater degree than do biological factors. 
    Mind you, I don’t suggest that humans are inherently "nice" or "altruistic".  I believe that humans are the ultimate opportunists, we are adapters.  If we can get what we want with violence, we are violent.  If we can get what we want without violence, that’s OK too.  What follows from that is that if political and social institutions satisfy people’s needs and wants without violence, the prevalence of violence declines.  What I don’t buy is that one of the things that people want is violence itself – that people are violent for the sake of being violent.  Other than a few psychopaths (and I don’t think there are anywhere near as many of them as the movies would lead you to believe), I think that very few people have a love of violence in and of itself.  That is what I would characterize as a myth.
    Interestingly, I always find that proponents of the violent human nature idea attribute these characteristics to the other guy, not themselves.  But for the existence of cops and prosecutors, would you be raping your neighbor’s wife and generally wreaking havoc in the neighborhood?  Or is it just the others outside of your neighborhood who are violent beasts?
    I guess I’m older than you.  My kids are well past their teen years, and they’re doing fine, thank you very much.  Generally, I did find that the differences in personality, aptitudes, etc., between them are not attributable to gender, except insofar as social institutions, customs, etc., tend to dictate differences in gender roles, most of which are quite superficial.

  11. josephfouche Says:

    Nature beats nurture, except for when it doesn’t.

  12. josephfouche Says:

    Violence is not the chief characteristic of war. War is deceit. Some war is violent but all war is deceitful. All people lie, so all people carry the seeds of war within them.

    Denying this merely validates my point.

  13. Dave Schuler Says:

    Cheryl’s counter-argument to the "human nature" argument is what is known as "burden shifting".  She’s asking you to prove a negative.  Contrariwise, the burden of proof is on her to prove that human nature has changed and, specifically, has changed in the last century.  I think it’s an absurd claim.

  14. zen Says:

    Very good point Dave. Even setting the burden of proof aside, evolution is a bad defense – assuming we evolve fast enough to behaviorally impact nuclear deterrence, why is becoming more aggressive not a likely possible outcome?

  15. democratic core Says:

    Biological evolution is irrelevant.  Biological evolution for a species like humans takes place over spans of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.  Moreover, I always emphasize that biological evolution does not occur by magic or willpower or the need for self-improvement.  It occurs by means of the mechanism of "survival of the fittest."  That is, a species evolves because certain members of the species having certain genetic characteristics are less likely to survive to an age where they can reproduce, thereby eliminating that particular genetic characteristic from the species.  Again, this requires either a very long period of time, or some mass extinction of large numbers of the species.  Obviously, this has not happened in past 100 years, and it is even less likely to happen over the next 100 years (setting aside things like genetic engineering or Kurzweil thinking) – with improved medical care, nutrition, etc., the vast majority of humans are able to survive to the age of reproduction.  The bottom line, it seems to me, is that whatever "human nature" was in 1913, it is undoubtedly the same today and almost certainly will be the same in 2113.  My point is simply that political, social, cultural and economic institutions are far more influential in affecting human behavior than some vague notion of "human nature."

  16. SomeoneIsWrongOnTheInternet Says:

    "Biological evolution is irrelevant."Crock of shit, and I’d prefer you fuck off back to your blog before you start spouting your ignorant bullshit here again. Firstly, biological evolution is not irrelvant. Case in point: viruses. Secondly, your argument is a strawman. You are attacking genetic evolution over long time periods, i.e. the process of evolution. When others here are arguing about the consequences, or output i.e. evolutionary influences on the human brain over the millennia and evolutionary psychology."The bottom line, it seems to me, is that whatever "human nature" was in 1913, it is undoubtedly the same today and almost certainly will be the same in 2113."This would be the only point we agree on. "My point is simply that political, social, cultural and economic institutions are far more influential in affecting human behavior than some vague notion of "human nature.""Weasel words. What do you mean by "far more"? When you make a comparison jackass, give us some data and argument to prove your point. Creating an argument (a shit one at that, see above) that denies A, and then concluding that some other B is more influential than A is invalid and a crappy argument. You haven’t made anything to support B. Also, your all-so-powerful institutions can also be explained through a framework of evolution. Evolutionary economic research on institutions is currently some of the most parsimonious work out there. Also, memetics. As Dennett said, evolution is a universal acid, eating through all the ideas we cherish, including wacko left wing rousseaunian ideas about culture and the blank slate of the human mind. You leftists that deny human nature are as fucking wacko as creationists. Keep on going on denying it with your cultural-centric views. We are the academic revolutionaries. You are the fucking reactionaries and academic hegemon. Your time is coming to an end. 

  17. democratic core Says:

    To Someone: Firstly, no literate person says "firstly."

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