Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Evolved Capacity for Evil, Part Three

Copernicus was born this day in 1473. Cheers!

In the two previous entries, I have established that human behavior is physically determined, and that there is variation (that is, both good and evil, altruism and abuse) in populations. I choose to emphasize the good, but am continually aware of evil. Jesus said, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

There are always evil people, some of whom are very successful. Sometimes they change the course of history. But are there relatively good vs. evil populations? That is, are there times when altruism is more vs. less common?

It is possible, though unproven, that there is an altruistic arch to human history. In tribal days, there was a lot of altruism. That was the only way a person could survive in a small tribe. There was war between tribes, but war was sporadic. Most of the natural selection was within tribes, where altruism provided a direct advantage. It is even possible, as Sewall Wright’s interdemic selection model might suggest, that the most altruistic groups prospered at the expense of the less altruistic groups (that is, for altruism to fellow group members). Then when civilization began, altruism didn’t matter as much. A king could enslave others, abuse them and exult in it, not needing anything from them, so long as he kept the army happy. This is basically the story of ancient human history. Then, more recently, as societies became more interdependent, altruism became important again. There were a few holdouts—the obviously insane Mao stayed in power because the army and party leaders saw him as their way to get power—but they were the exceptions. If this arch of history is correct—altruism, oppression, altruism—then we can imagine that the future is altruistic. We can imagine that democracy is spreading in Muslim countries right now. I hope so. This would mean that natural selection will continue to favor those people and cultures that are most altruistic.

But there can be local variation. While most populations become more altruistic, some can become less so. And, within an overall population, some demes can become more altruistic, some less. People spend most of their time, and choose their mating partners, within demes more often than from another deme. And this brings us back to the impaled coyotes about which I wrote four entries ago. Is it possible that, in the rural South, some demes are evolving toward evil?

It is possible. Here in the rural South, there are groups of people who appear to enjoy violence and value physical power. They even look different: the men are thick-necked and thick-everything-elsed. They place no value on intelligence. They have it, but it is down in the basement. They pile up weapons and impale coyotes. Individuals with evil genes may prevail in these demes, because not only natural but cultural selection favors them. They have a thin crust of friendliness, so long as you don’t ask them about the coyotes. They worship a God of war. They do not like to build things; they buy them, then wreck them. Let’s call them Destroyers.

This is clearly not true of all rural Okies (such as me). I have seen a lot of my fellow Okies who are just as uneducated as the ones described above but who are altruistic and friendly. They even look different than the others. They may have even fewer teeth than the evil ones, but they are not scary. They value intelligence: they love to tell you about their work, and they exult in the skills that they have. They love to build things. Let’s call them Builders.

The Destroyers and the Builders are two demes, side by side, within the same population. There is occasional interbreeding. But the rules of natural selection are different, at least in degree, in the two demes, favoring oppression in one and altruism in the other. Over time, natural selection has favored the altruism of the Builders in the modern human species, but if circumstances change, such as political or economic chaos, the Destroyers are ready to emerge from their rural hiding places.

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