Saturday, July 25, 2015

Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the 'fear effect' and the end of ideologies

Okay, this is one of my big ones... a major posting about some fundamentals of human nature and history.  I sometimes blog these before posting them as full essays, then chapters in a forthcoming book.  So cinch up your  saddle for a serious ride as we explore some basic drivers of our unique civilization!

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Social thinkers long yearned for the kind of predictive power offered by universal laws of Galileo, Newton and Einstein -- reductionist rules that changed our relationship with the material world, from helplessness to manipulative skill.

If only similar patterns and laws were found for human nature! Might we construct an ideal society suited to decent living by all? 

Or else... might technologized sociology anchor in the tyranny that almost all our ancestors knew? Tyrannies that were amateurish, by comparison to the coming All-State.

Deep thinkers about human nature start with assumptions. Freud focused on sexual trauma and repression, Marx on the notion that humans combine rational self-interest with inter-class predation. Machiavelli offered scenarios about power relationships. Ayn Rand postulates that the sole legitimate human stance is solipsism. All are a priori suppositions based on limited and personally biased observations rather than any verified fundamental. Each writer "proved" his point with copious anecdotes. But, as Ronald Reagan showed, anecdotes prove nothing about generalities, only about possibilities.

In fact, while the models of Freud, Marx, and Machiavelli (also Madison, Keynes, Hayek, Gandhi etc.) attracted followers, I think a stronger case can be made for tribalism as a driver of history. 

Shouldn't any theory of our nature apply across the long span when that nature formed? Indeed, Freud, Marx and Rand shared cluelessness about Darwinian evolution, animal behavior, pre-agricultural anthropology, or ethology.

 Heckfire, shouldn't we be seeking patterns that held across all continents and almost all pre-metal tribes? That are not artifacts of later cultural imposition by contrived societies? The long epoch, when humans were few, but when a vast majority of human generations suffered darwinnowing pressures, thriving or dying according to their fitness to meet challenges in a harsh world, unprotected by the houses and markets and coddling states of the last 5,000 years? 

(And yes, I am qualified to speak here, as a peer-published author in the fields of evolution theory and sociobiology. And in psychology. Well, perhaps not a pro in these fields, but up one small notch. Though let me hurry to add that I will not be talking here about "sociobiology" in the sense that it has long been discussed -- e.g. sexual politics and such.)

THE RELEVANCE OF EVOLUTION

So, what might tribalism tell us about human nature, that was missed by Marx and Freud and Rand etc., in their post-literacy myopia? What traits seem to be shared both by tribal and “civilized” societies?

Over and over, we see how devotion to a group, clan, or nation overwhelms individual self-interest. Indeed, for most of the last million years, any man or woman who lost the faith and confidence of his or her tribe was in great danger. Often effectively dead.

Ask any kid between the ages of ten and nineteen -- how urgently you needed approval of a small group of friends, coincidentally about the same size as a prototypical Cro-Magnon tribal band. And if that group turned on you, remember the pain? 

Sure, parents tell their kids -- "Don't worry, you'll make new friends." At one level, in the rational prefrontal lobes, we know this to be true. And yet, the gut still wrenches, as if life were on the line... which it would have been, back in olden days, if the tribe ejected you from its circle of comradeship. 

Oh, but humans can be very flexible defining what is "my tribe." More often than not, the major determining factor is fear

AND NOW THE KEY POINT: OUR HORIZONS OF WORRY AND HOPE

When the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war-riven Lebanon, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent.

The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward the stranger.

Anthropologically speaking, it is "murder" to kill that which is fellow tribesman or citizen (someone identified as inside the tribal horizon). In contrast, it is not murder to kill that which is inherently outside the tribal horizon. (For a cinematic allegory, recall the film "Little Big Man" in which the Cheyenne call themselves the "human beings". And that film was pro-Native American!)

My contention is simple, that there exists an inverse correlation between ambient fear levels and the distance -- in terms of space, time and kinship -- of the "horizons” maintained by average members of a given culture.

These horizons come in several varieties. 

1) There is a "Worry Horizon"... what threats concern you and your neighbors. Here we see that worry is quite a different thing than Fear! The average modern American probably worries as much or more than tribal peoples did! Worry will never go away since it seems embedded into our nature. If immediate needs and threats are dissipated, that only shifts the locus of worry somewhere else, depending to some extent on individual personality. 

But fear is another matter. Fear controls what it is that we are worrying about. And how far we'll look for it.

2) There is also a “Time Horizon” having to do with how far into the future you devote your attention – either in dealing with threats or seeking opportunities. If your children are starving, you are more concerned with the next meal than with the next harvest. 

If the harvest looks okay, you turn your thoughts to longer range matters. Storage, trade, capital improvements… or whether slow loss of topsoil may affect your heirs 200 years from now. The specific topic of your fretfulness may be so extended and abstract (e.g. climate change) that your starving ancestors would find it ludicrous...

...but they would well-understand the buckled brow and dour frowns of concern on your face. The better, more productive and secure civilization those ancestors bequeathed to you did not end all worrying. It simply empowers you to look farther, to more distant, dangerous horizons.

3) Another might be called the "Otherness Horizon” - where one looks not for danger but for opportunities, adventures, new allies, new mating partners. This is also, in anthropological circles, discussed under "exogamy". Clearly, this is one of the reasons early science fiction tales seemed so obsessed with sexy aliens! While the Threat Horizon has been filled with nasty ones. (See my book Otherness.)

This could also be called the “Horizon of Inclusion” since it is partly about deciding how many people you want to deal with as worthy fellow citizens and negotiating partners, and where you draw the line, calling others foes. 

What seems clear, examining historical records and a broad range of cultures, is that all of these horizons expand and contract in the manner described above. The amount of worry may remain relatively inelastic -- a trait of personality, rather than conditions. But the topic of worry changes dramatically and flexibly. Yes, the horizon distance can be affected partly by cultural memes and personality. But overall, these horizons seem to depend most upon the ambient level of fear

OUR FAVORED (OR WEIRD) MODERN PERSPECTIVE

By these lights, most contemporary Americans live in an unprecedented society, where the vast majority of families have not known starvation or even significant want for so many generations that those kinds of worry are almost abstractions. 

This, in turn, has allowed traditional tribal bounds to relax and spread so far that "tolerance" and "diversity" and "otherness" are words of totemic power in this culture! Indeed, it is interesting to view the expanding circle of citizenship and inclusion as first the American colonies and then the Republic began experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity and fear-reduction. The battles over inclusion that were fought in each generation (first against class division, then slavery, sexism, religious intolerance, racism…) tend to seem obvious to their children, who grow up within the newly-widened horizon set… then wrestle with the next stage. Continuing the process of widening the circle.

While horrific injustices remain, and substantial fractions of the population appear unwilling to let go of their prejudices, there is at least as large a portion of modern citizenry which seems eager to extend the trend of expanding inclusion and empowerment farther still.

I have some accompanying charts, showing a set of nested CYLINDERS, each holding the same volume of worry and optimistic hope. But some are tall and slim, representing societies in which fear levels are very high… and the resulting radius of horizons (threat, time, opportunity and inclusion) are therefore very short range. 

Other cylinders are low and fat, representing cultures wherein fear has been so low, for so long that the horizons of worry stretch very far from the individual worrier, who now obsesses over matters that lie years, or thousands of miles away, and matters of inclusion that involve people (even animals and ecosystems) that his or her ancestors would have simply considered prey. 

Ponder this allegory! You are in a crowd of people -- perhaps in a lecture hall or at a party -- and someone rushes in shouting that "there are whales stranded on the beach!"  (Assume you live near a beach.) 

What then is your reaction? While some might shrug at the news, I figure you and many of your friends would drop everything and hurry toward that beach, as fast as you can...

... which is exactly the same thing your ancestors would have done, upon hearing the same news.

Only consider. Your ancestors would be rushing to the beach with different intent. You are propelled by eagerness to help-the-included-other. 

Your forebears' race to the shore would be propelled by one word, foremost in their minds.

Lunch.

== Fluctuating boundaries ==

Ponder that allegory of the beached whales. You know it to be true. So? Were your ancestors cruelly benighted folk? Implying that you are a tremendously more elevated being than they were? 

Hm. Elevated, perhaps you are. But only because those ancestors strove to create conditions under which you cannot imagine needing whale meat to feed your starving kids.  Instead -- more relaxed -- you assign whales within the circle of inclusion. To your eyes, they are fellow citizens meriting generosity, protection and respect.

Today we discuss threats and opportunities in terms of a century or more, with asteroids and Mars colonies and melting icecaps open for serious discussion. Inclusion arguments now extend to legal rights for animals. Indeed, the process of inclusion expansion has been reinforced!  Not only with supportive propaganda (tolerance-diversity memes in every children's book and Hollywood flick), but also via the hard-won lesson of practical economics -- that it is simply stupid to waste talent. A waste that is the principal cost of prejudice.

Yes, fashionable horizon/inclusion issues can fluctuate at the boundaries. Note how nationalist patriotism was considered an archaic and rather quaint viewpoint in the 1990s, till an uptick in fear after 9/11 caused a partial contraction of horizons for many. Suddenly, flags were all the rage. (We'll get into how this process affects modern politics.)

And yet, it is a sign of this culture’s deeper confidence that our horizons of inclusion have not appreciably contracted. Today -- especially in certain western nations -- we give a kind of culturally-based honorary citizenship to dolphins and consider it murder to kill as alien a creature as a whale. 

Science fiction thrives in such a culture, since it brashly extends horizons in both time and space as far as human imagination can take us. 

The threat horizon is occupied by vicious invader-aliens and the exogamy horizon by beautiful ones... and the inclusion horizon finger-wags that non-murderous aliens merit nurturing protection from our own, freely-elected government! Heck, did you see District 9? They don't even have to be attractive anymore, to merit protective inclusion.

Of course the macro topic here could be oversimplified as “altruism,” since that, too, is about extending beneficence to the other. Altruism is receiving a fair amount of attention, of-late; see three new books on the topic reviewed here by Scientific American.  And the cogent volume Pathological Altruism, edited by Barbara Oakley et al., containing two papers by yours truly. Though our topic here -- horizon expansion -- is about much more, since altruism is just one of many zones across which we stare at the other. 

== Variation ==

It is important to note, of course, that our cylinder-charts only depict a rough average. Within any culture there will be many individuals whose fear levels - or personal ways of responding to fear - are quite different from the surrounding norm. Indeed, these variations are what we tend to notice from day to day. Certainly Timothy McVeigh had very different concepts of "inclusion horizons" than many of the fellow citizens he slew.

Indeed, might one diagnose some recent phenomena in these terms? Why is it that citizens of New York and Washington DC – direct victims of 9/11 terrorism – remain utterly “blue” in their fealty to expanded horizons – in time, threat and inclusion – while “red state” attitudes seem to draw closer in: e.g. higher enmity toward non-natives and immigrants, less concern about environmental degradation, more hostile ruminations over “war” on terror, less interest in science and more in a pending, biblically-ordained end of the world? 

Is this model the best one, yet, at explaining such differences? Certainly it is far better than any insipid “left-right political axis” or words such as “conservatism” and “liberalism.”

Also, different cultures will react to prosperity and peace in markedly different ways. I believe it will take many generations of tranquility and progress before the deeply ingrained Russian proclivity toward paranoia and pessimistic gloom will be forced to give way to a cheerier mien. Likewise, so long as most children in the Middle East are raised with fairy tales that preach revenge as a high human value, horizon-widening will at best be a jerky process. Skim 1001 Arabian Nights and tally the few tales that don't involve revenge. Indeed, much the same can be said of older western myths, collected in Grimm's Fairy Tales. The counter-push by tolerance messages - e.g. Hiawatha and Sesame Street - is recent! 

Indeed, cultural variation can be seen even within the U.S., as those with more "confederate" upbringing react with hackles toward diversity preachers. They deem those who push relentless horizon expansion to be sick persons... and vice-versa. Or else, look at the divide within the SF community, with fantasy writers and readers much more willing to dive into old-fashioned romanticism, in which whole classes of beings (orcs, zombies, clone-stormtroopers) deserve - by their very nature - to be annihilated. Are the relentlessly feudal settings, featuring states of bone-chilling fear, tools to resurrect that delicious us-versus-them feeling, letting fans enjoy intolerant slaughter guilt-free?

Peering in the opposite direction: what happens when fear goes to zero? Do we get infinite horizons? I suspect that there is more than a little religious writing on this subject. Indeed, might this be the purely detached compassion that is written about in Buddhism? Is it one of many traits we must achieve, before deserving to become members of an interstellar federation? 

Or else apprentices in the Workshop of Creation?

CAN WE KEEP WIDENING HORIZONS?

No mistake, I approve of this trend toward ever-widening horizons. (Which may be the deep underpinning of science fiction, by the way. Watch this TED talk where I explore in-depth.) 

Indeed, like millions of others, I am impatient for it to go much farther. It is ironic, though, how few seem to realize that the new era of Omni-Inclusion is based upon prosperity and lack of fear brought on by prosperity, and that our morality of universal tolerance would have been considered terminally sappy and dangerous by every other culture in human history.

This is – in my view – the deepest smug insanity of the "left."

 Yes, the “right” obviously suffers from shorter horizons. That is their dire craziness. But the doctrinaire left is just as loopy. Because they take expanded horizons as a deeply fundamental ‘given’ of human morality. Like Rousseau, they simply assume, as something basic, a value system that is actually extremely recent and entirely contingent. One that is based upon unprecedented levels of wealth and satiation. 

Indeed, were they to preach this doctrine of hyper-tolerance to any of the ancient “wise tribes” that they so revere, they would have been laughed out of camp! 

Can this process be pathological at some level? Jason Cawley wrote: "There is such a thing, comical as it sounds, as a Gaia Liberation Front. They have decided that mankind is dangerous to life on Earth. They have given up on warnings preventing eco-catastrophe, have passed the stage of welcoming die-backs to hunter-gatherer existence, have realized that capitalistic assaults on nature are a programmed possibility of man, revealing therefore man as a form of cancer within life, and have decided this applies even to "indigenous peoples" because they might develop technology someday. Because of that whole chain, they have decided that mankind must be wiped out before life is. They only debate how to do it. The public relations position is voluntary mass suicide, but among themselves they are more direct and pin their hopes on an engineered virus, airborne and lethal to humans, which they propose to make before anyone else learns and uses enough biotech to screw up the planet."  (See this point of view garishly illustrated in a very silly and occasionally outright offensive flick: "Kingsman.")

Summarizing: Today's political camps might be typified by how they feel about the process of ongoing horizon expansion.

 "Leftists" give the process itself their utter and devoted loyalty.  The next inclusion push is the be-all of obsession, and to hell with older loyalties.  

People on the "right" react with hackles: "I like my old loyalties, so stop nagging me!"

Liberals, the sole group who think positive-sum, like the horizon expansion process... but liberals also like many of their older loyalties, and see no reason why they should have to choose. 

Again, this has nothing to do with classic, Marxian "left-right". Rather, it posits that today's tussles are matters of personality! A suggestion borne out by the research of Jonathan Haidt.

FORGET ROUSSEAU. FORGET HOBBES. 

And forget Marx, Freud and Rand, for that matter. If one takes history into account and cheerfully accepts the incremental progress that it portrays, then the Modernist Agenda of pragmatic improvement makes a great deal of sense. Face it. Rousseau was a sap and Hobbes was a suck-up grouch. All of this is about Locke. The sooner the “wide-horizons” people realize it, the more effective they will be at pursuing their agenda, of expanding inclusion ever farther!

In fact, this process of horizon-widening is not intrinsically a feature of the left… though it is intrinsic to liberalism in the older and truer meaning of the word. It is utterly compatible with the four accountability arenas, for example (science, markets, democracy, courts… and the candidate for becoming a fifth arena – the internet. (And a sixth -- Sports.)

For example, markets work best when competition is both encouraged and well-regulated… when it operates under rules of fair play that maximize creativity and minimize blood-on-the-floor. This can only happen when market participants must treat each other as competing teams, not deadly foes. 

Indeed, one of the major outgrowths of our unprecedented experiment in universal citizenship has been a fundamental change in the shape of the modern social structure.  Society as diamond, and not pyramid, is partly a product of technology (making a new class of slaves called "machines", to occupy the lowermost tier), but also a result of having trained several generations of children to think in terms of non-zero sum games. But more on that anon. 

Hence, once again, we see that this is not a matter best handled on a 'left-right' basis. Both dogmatic extremes ignore history and are effectively quite mad! One side resists the widening of horizons while the other would force it with a patronizing, oversimplifying sledge hammer.

Rather, this is about the true “liberal” notion of ever-increasing inclusion within the tent of human decency - motivated in part by the pragmatic need to stop wasting talent through prejudice - while allowing a lot of give and negotiation and bickering and creative competition inside the tent! 

PUZZLERS

There are many questions. For example - can the long process of expanding human horizons be studied in order to determine crucial narrow points and bottlenecks that inhibit horizon broadening, among both individuals and cultures? 

If such bottlenecks can be found and diagnosed, might a judicious application of philanthropic funding help unblock the process, here and overseas, so that both tolerance and far-seeing investment practices take greater hold?

Some societies on Earth have had plenty to eat for a while, yet have not taken as readily to horizon expansion... especially the horizon of inclusion. Hence, to what degree does culture play a significant role?  Might it be that humans only become satiated enough to extend those horizons, when they have been taught first to be at least somewhat satiable?

Is science fiction an artifact of horizon expansion? Certainly what you and I call the real stuff has to be. But recall that there were always tales of the fantastic, all the way back to tribal eras, and these helped reinforce horizon walls. Indeed, nothing could be more romantic and more savagely non-inclusive than most modern fantasy tales, in which the slaughter of every orc, or imperial clone trooper, is just fine, under the presumption that their type has no mothers to mourn them.

Do I deem my "horizons" model of human nature to be as valid as Marx and Freud and Rand declared theirs to be? Of course not. It is a model. Models are only memes and tools, not the things that they emulate!  I can only say that those other social theorists made no effort to span the tribal era that made us, nor to explain the pervasiveness of feudalism.

But the tradeoff between FEAR and the distance toward which we peer... that seems to be eternal.

There is no end to questions. That's a good thing! A feature of our process of horizon examination, not a flaw. 

And with that, I will now back away. Maybe put some of this into a story.

Though in fact, the core issues of "otherness" have been the central focus of my life.

108 comments:

Louis Shalako said...

Where there is no fear, there is no anger.

Tom Crowl said...

Issues in Scaling Civilization: The Altruism Dilemma
http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2012/02/issues-in-scaling-civilization-altruism.html

Thoughts on the Biosocial Roots of Oligarchy
http://culturalengineer.blogspot.com/2014/10/thoughts-on-biosocial-roots-of-oligarchy.html

Ioan said...

I have a unconventional theory in regards to the popularity of vampires in the last decade, in the West. It is asking the question: can we include a creature that feeds on us in a zero-sum way? I mean, we've integrated people of various races, genders, and orientations (although imperfectly). As Dr Brin points out, we have somewhat integrated dolphins and whales. Integrating dogs, cats, or crows would not be too much of a stretch. Likewise, lions and alligators eat humans, but not exclusively. Thus, we can integrate them assuming they abandon eating human meat. Some people have expanded their horizons to include prey animals. However, what if there was a creature that was a predator of humans, and only humans? Could we integrate these creatures? That is why, using Dr. Brin's definition of science fiction, vampire stories could be considered science fiction. I welcome any holes in my musings. Let the fun begin.

Anonymous said...

What worries me most is how fragile the underlying foundations of the civilization we've built really are. As long as we can support leisure (and that's what a lot of prosperity is) and reduce the fear factor, we can move ahead in the direction of inclusion. But without achieving some form of "sustainability" relatively soon, we could enter an era where fear dominates and many old structures will be made new again. It's quite easy to fall back, not only in shorter cycles described above, but also as a civilization or even species as a whole and environmental degradation has nailed quite a few over the eons.

I

Daniel Duffy said...

Ioan, you might be interested in this excellent essay by SF writer Charlie Stross on the vampire/zombie popularity ratio:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/06/whats-going-to-be-big-next-in-.html

Vampires are stereotypically rich, attractive, sophisticates with mesmerising powers of mind control and an unaccountable degree of sexual attractiveness. (They're placeholders for: predation, psychopathy, class-ridden inequality, individualism (while outwardly conforming to the behavioural and dress codes of the ruling class), rape, fatal and untreatable disease, and these days for BDSM. Also for the worst excesses of investment bankers.)

Zombies are stereotypically penniless, hideously ugly, mindless, repulsive, and leave me at a loss for words to describe their lack of sexual attractiveness. Rather than being individualist, rare, and elitist zombies shamble around in hordes, pull down anyone who is too slow to get away, and make them over as one of their own. They're a middle-class metaphor for the faceless horror of the impoverished lumpen proletariat, the glacial catastrophe that follows you always, never sleeping, waiting to tear you down.

Let us posit that during good times, when the stock market is rising and mini-skirt sales are booming, vampires exemplify the familiar excesses of the age. And during great depressions and economic disasters, when the market is in the tank and austerity is fashionable, everyone is afraid of falling under the shuffling horde of pursuing zombies.


Daniel Duffy said...

The key fact about human nature is that we are an invasive species.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/book-review-the-invaders-by-pat-shipman-1426884980

We did to Neanderthals (a rival apex predator) what wolfs did to coyotes after they were reintroduced into Yellowstone Park:

Ms. Shipman cites a very recent example. A century or so ago, we Americans killed off the wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, because they threatened our livestock. In the absence of wolves—the apex predator of the ecosystem—elk proliferated and devoured the aspen saplings in the area. This changed the nature of the forest, depriving beavers and birds of their habitat and food. Without the ponds made by beavers, and without the dispersal of seeds by birds, fewer succulents grew in the spring, which denied grizzly bears food they needed upon emerging from hibernation. And on and on: a trophic cascade.

Something very similar happened soon after modern humans arrived in Europe, Ms. Shipman argues. In the space of just a few thousand years, as we spread through the region, we killed off the apex predators: first the Neanderthals and then, over time, cave bears, cave hyenas, lesser scimitar cats, dholes, mammoths and woolly rhinos, among other animals. How did we manage this? According to Ms. Shipman, we enlisted the help of dogs.

For the first time in the history of the planet, two apex predators (Homo Sapiens and wolf-dogs) made an alliance. And it destroyed every species of megafauna in its path, first in Eurasia and then in the Americas. Using only stone tools and weapons our ancestors wiped out more species than modern man.

Including Neanderthals. Though we didn't exactly commit genocide or prehistoric ethnic cleansing (there are only a few Neanderthal fossils showing evidence of violence from projectile weapons like throwing spears and arrow heads - Neanderthals were ambush hunters that used thrusting weapons). Nor is there much evidence of interbreeding (there is only a tiny percent of human DNA in Neanderthals and visa versa). Some violence and some interbreeding occurred, but for the most part we just out-competed Neanderthals at every level - with the help of the dog.

Ms. Shipman devotes the final third of her book to exploring a fascinating range of evidence—genetic, archaeological, anthropological—that provides substantial support for this theory. She never proposes that the alliance of humans and dogs alone led to the extinction of the Neanderthals. In all likelihood, she writes, the mere presence of humans, a competitive new predator in the Eurasian ecosystem, was an important stressor, as were climate change and perhaps even infectious diseases brought by humans from Africa. But the domestication of dogs, she suggests, significantly tipped the balance: “The unprecedented alliance of humans with another top predator (wolf-dogs or a kind of wolf) may have been the final stress that pushed Neanderthals and many other species down the slippery slope toward extinction.”




Daniel Duffy said...

So what implications does our prehistoric past have for our future?

If we spread through the galaxy it will be by conforming to our nature as an invasive species and using the techniques of other invasive species, like the zebra mussel. The proposal to populate the stars with frozen embryo colony ships is similar to the strategy of zebra mussels hitching a ride in the bilge tanks of oceanic vessels to reach new territory. It remains the only technologically feasible method of spreading throughout the galaxy at sub-light speeds:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WtgmT5CYU8

In doing so we'll need an advance (dare I say "uplifted"?) version of the dog by our side. Together there won't be any alien short of Cthulu or an intelligent T-Rex that could stand in our way.

And God help any alien species we encounter that is less advanced than we are.

David Brin said...

There is growing consensus among hard SF writers (the sole group truly exploring "fermi" theories) that a sapient race will have its personality anchored at least partly in where it was, pre-sapiency, on the food chain. Descendants of solitary omnivore bears will have a different baseline personality than descendants of stalking carnivor tigers or pack carnivore wolves or herd herbivores. We are gregarious omnivorousapes and that may be a crucially adaptable background.

Daniel Duffy said...

Agreed, the key to our success as a species is that we are not specialists.

Anonymous said...

citizens of New York and Washington DC – direct victims of 9/11 terrorism – remain utterly “blue” in their fealty to expanded horizons – in time, threat and inclusion

Go tell that to the Muslims of the Park51 project, or the friends and family of Sunando Sen, who was pushed onto a subway track to his death because a woman thought he was a Muslim, or any of the many other Muslims or people who were perceived to be Muslims who have suffered insults, injury, or death at the hands of these "utterly blue" vassals to "expanded horizons" and "inclusion". Or are they not "true (blue) Scotsmen"?

David Brin said...

Ah, people for whom anecdote trumps statistics.

misses hippy mama said...

good read...just wondering where or whether 'a sense if responsibility' to the future may possibly drive us, rather than fear, in regards to trying to halt grievous climate change for instance. And whether its completely dope to seek prosperity for all globally,.having had the good fortune of operating from a sated, somewhat safe (relatively speaking- even if 'poor' in a first world country) position...or just idealistic.

And thinking that Freud, Marx and diverse feminist theorists each hold some wisdom over what drives us to be more or less fearful of having our needs unmet.

Alex Tolley said...

If the fear vs inclusion range model is valid, we would expect there to be some evidence that it is also true for out primate cousins, the chimps and bonobos. Is there any such evidence that this model works in these species?

We should also be cautious of the terminology. What is being classed as "inclusion" could also be "lack of aggression", which has very different connotations. Th ef5ear-aggression relationship is well studied and can even be fitted into the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, if you don't mind me asking a rather writerly question, what audience are you writing for, here? The reason I ask is that, although this was rather long (and my own ability to concentrate has been diminishing with age) I noted very little in the way of the kind of terminology that would be familiar to a more educated audience (not implying anything about quality here). Your idea about expanding and contracting horizons, for example, was examined quite some time ago under the heading of Segmentary Opposition - coined by E.E. Evans-Pritchard in the 1930s, though treated with much more acumen and subtlety by Marshal Sahlins. In fact, my daughter recently penned a little cartoon to illustrate the idea. Of course you have taken the idea in a different direction than they did, but the basic idea of expanding and contracting horizons isn't knew. Maybe it's just my academic training, but it might bolster your arguments a little to mention the fact that at least the foundation is old territory, not over the deep end stuff. I love the cylinders visuals. If Evans-Pritchard had come up with something like that, it might have made his dreadful prose a little more palatable.

More later ... getting stereod by offspring.

TCB said...

I had a little epiphany a year or two ago, about a verse from the Bible (though I am irreligious and have never read most of it, this is a famous verse).

1 John 4:18 http://biblehub.com/1_john/4-18.htm

All versions of the verse say roughly the same thing:

There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.

It struck me that this was a very good bit of psychology. There is simply not room in the human mind for love and fear at the same time. You can alternate between the two emotions in short order, or be filled with one or the other. At no moment can you strongly feel both! And knowing this, it becomes possible, to some extent, to choose which you'd rather feel. As I was then having problems with the occasional panic attack, I realized that a way to manage the problem was to make an effort to feel love toward others, and toward the whole universe. It didn't have to make us. It didn't have to give us all we have.

As Bob Altemeyer noted in The Authoritarians (which can be read here for free: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ ), the authoritarian mind is rooted in the belief that "It's a dangerous world." But to some degree that view is a choice. If there were no terrorists and no hunger, we'd still die in a hundred years or so (or at least that how it's always worked before). We live a while and all die. That's the deal, there's not a better game in town. So to believe "It's a dangerous world" is, to some degree, a choice, and actually tends to be self-fulfilling. Authoritarians do most of the stuff we're supposed to be against: lie, cheat, steal, kiss up and kick down, hoard, push for narrow cylinders of inclusion and pyramid shaped societies, and start wars.
A little fear makes sense. Nobody wants to be like the moas, too docile to protect themselves. But that's not the problem homo sapiens needs to worry about overmuch right now.

Paul SB said...

TCB, might you be forgetting the era of adolescent crushes, where love is frequently paired with abject terror? ;] But in all seriousness, the point you make is interesting, and consistent with what Dr. Brin wrote about Buddhism.

"Indeed, might this be the purely detached compassion that is written about in Buddhism?"

This would apply to the mainstream Mahayana sects (by far the majority around the world) for which compassion for all living things (and even non-living things, a part of it that I can only roll my eyes back into my head over) is a primary goal and seen as a major vehicle through which salvation is accomplished. I'm not so sure about Theravada sects, which do not see karma as transferable so compassion is not considered an important goal.

But Dr. Brin's argument is predicated on the assumption that the amount of fear a person experiences does not change, it is the source of that fear that changes (if I am reading him right). I think that this may seem right in the aggregate, but from seeing fMRI scans of people at different levels of meditative practice, I don't think this necessarily holds true for individuals.

Jonathan S. said...

It's interesting to note that in those feudal fantasies of Dungeons & Dragons and its ilk, it's becoming increasingly unfashionable to regard any sapient species as "the permanent enemy". Even orcs and dark elves are seen more and more often as individuals, potentially partners in driving back the darkness - see Drizzt do'Urden and his many clones in RPGs, for example. (Heck, I just started playing the MMO Neverwinter on my new XBox One, and the first character I created was a half-orc Great Weapon Fighter, a former thief-catcher from a city to the North who came to Neverwinter in search of an escaped criminal.)

Meanwhile, the observation of the changes in human behavior toward non-human life forms was brilliantly illustrated this past weekend in Vancouver, BC, where an orca was stranded while hunting seals in shallow water. Humans came to her and covered her with wet clothing, pouring water over her continuously, until the tide came back up and she could swim free. Biologists are still watching her when they can find her, until they're sure she didn't suffer any permanent damage. (And the local news is also abuzz with the news of four orca pups born to one of our local pods, who were recently declared past the "danger time" of their infancy.)

David Brin said...

Paul SB I distinguish between FEAR and WORRY. Worry is a function of personality. If you are a worrier, you'll find stuff. Low fear levels let you (or force you to) shift the locus of your worries to farther horizons. Same holds for exogamy mate-search. Or opportunity horizons.

Jonathan see Tsar Trek, in which every species breeds with every other one.

TCB said...

Paul SB, yes to all that. If I were more of a 'joiner', I'd probably go be a Buddhist. Minus any superstitious cruft it may have picked up later, the original Buddhist message of non-attachment as an antidote to suffering (which includes fear) is, to my view, some of the best thinking anybody ever did under a tree on this planet.

Both a person's and a society's fear levels and targets can be changed deliberately, to some degree, I feel sure of this. It may not come easily nor as fast as we'd want; remember, you're doing all this with a chemical brain that has limits on its parameters and plasticity; personal trauma and stress leave real physical changes in the neurons that don't just go away. No reason not to try, though.

David Burns said...

Thanks for an interesting article. I recommend Haidt's book highly. Your perspective seems slightly different from his. Your question is, how do we expand the scope and scale of our tribe? His question is, how do we integrate our diversity into a single meta-tribe or super-tribe? I see value in both.

David Brin said...

Tsar Trek? Did I really type that? I honestly across 40 years never saw that. What an image!

Jonathan S. said...

"These are the voyages of the starship Potemkin. Her five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds and claim them for the Rodina. To seek out new life and new serfs. To boldly go where no Cossack has gone before!"

Xanadan said...

Is Fear a consequence rather than the reason? Is the reason uncertainty and lack of control?

Uncertainty and lack of control leads to narratives about the world which elict fear and disgust for some outgroups (outside the cylinder as described).

As we are able through society to provide more certainty and day to day control (laws, property rights, etc) there is less fear and hence the ingroup horizon expands.

Also, you can tell a story to a group (nation) that tries to create a new horizon and outgroup (nationalism) so this property can also be manipulated. A cult leader creates a new narrative in which the cultists situate their life with a changed perception of their outgroup.

Given the unreliability of memories, all that we have really are a rickety scaffolding of facts held together with the narratives we have created about ourselves and the world.

Well those were my initial thoughts.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Although I have no substantial disagreements with the main article, the importance of memes (or what I prefer to call "ideoviruses") seems to be severely underemphasized. (The word "memes" is used, in an incidental manner, three times in the main article; but I thought that the concept should be more of a central focus in considering this topic.)

When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in The Selfish Gene, he was trying to show that memes are a direct analog of genes and that memes reproduce and participate in their own type of evolution in a manner that is very much analogous to what genes do.

Just as genes generally exist in gene complexes, memes generally exist as part of a larger meme complex. Memes also alter themselves to their environment in an attempt to insure their survival and ongoing propagation.

The example of the beached whale in the main article is a good example of this. Our ancestors possessed the meme of the beached whale as something to arouse excitement and interest because the beached whale was a easily-accessible food source.

The very same beached whale meme still exists in modern humans and often arouses the same level of excitement and interest. The old form of the meme of a whale as something to eat, however, would not survive. So now the meme has evolved (in exactly the same way that genes and gene complexes evolve) as a interesting creature that badly needs our help to alleviate its suffering. This meme has evolved for no other reason than to insure its survival in the ideosphere. It is an example of memetic "survival of the fittest."

Increasing levels of sympathy or empathy are not enough to account for the level of interest caused by a beached whale. If someone reported that there was a sick dog on the beach, we would likely feel at least the same level of sympathy that we do for the beached whale, but the sick dog would not arouse the same level of excitement and interest in most people.

Anonymous said...

Was the death of Sunando Sen an anecdote? Why don't you put on a turban and walk around the streets of New York and see what kind of a statistic you become?

And how is that Buddhist universal compassion working out for the Rohingya?

Paul SB said...

It looks like Jonathan has found a new fiction project for Dr. Brin - the adventures of the Starship Potemkin.

Our recent anonymous contributor hasn't figure out the difference between a trend and an exception. I'm not saying that these are not things to be righteously indignant about, but righteous indignation needs to be tempered by deeper understanding than what comes from today's news media. I took enough Asian Civ classes in college to know that, while Asia has had plenty of bloody wars, religious wars are an exception, rather than the rule they have been in the West. But I can use an example from the West to illustrate the naivete of resting the Rohinga situation entirely at the feet of religion. Think about the centuries of conflict in Ireland, which has always been billed as Catholic vs. Protestant, but the religion in this case was only an oversimplification. Ireland was invaded by England 900 years ago, and since that time most of the positions of power and wealth were in the hands of English, Welsh or Scottish colonists. The conflict was really ethnic in character, but religion was used as an easy marker of who could be expected to be on which side (which goes back to Scalar Stress and how it makes people oversimplify situations that are more complex).

Paul SB said...

"Some societies on Earth have had plenty to eat for a while, yet have not taken as readily to horizon expansion... especially the horizon of inclusion. Hence, to what degree does culture play a significant role? Might it be that humans only become satiated enough to extend those horizons, when they have been taught first to be at least somewhat satiable?"

Now here's an idea that goes beyond Maslow. I wonder if there could be something of a time lag. The demographic transition usually takes a couple generations to set in. Societies that are predominantly agricultural value large families, so once they move off the farmer and into cities where large families are economically disadvantaged, they don't always lower birth rates right away. It can sometimes take a couple generations for them to figure it out and start to change their conception of ideal family size (and for various reasons certain people continue to cling to the old ideal). As to learning to be satiable, this sounds a bit like today's so-called culture war. Some cling to the pattern of insatiable greed and concomitant display behavior outlined by Veblen, while others are seeking less material arenas of display, like health and spirituality. If we are thinking about memes, though, as analogous genes the way Dawkins conceived them, then we have to anticipate a level of randomness similar to the randomness of genetic mutation, as in the seemingly anomalous melanin content of Inuit people. Perhaps those societies in which horizon expansion hasn't happened yet simply have not been exposed to those sorts of memes in sufficient quantities to sufficiently move the mean.

Paul SB said...

On the subject of fiction, I just finished reading "Glory Season" yesterday, and I have to say it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, every page of it, including the afterward where Dr. Brin explains some of the thinking that went into the story and its unusual setting. I have seen few fictional treatments of gender this thoughtful and mature. In a lesser writers hands it could have been polemical, or possibly pornographic, but Dr. Brin kept it both clean and interesting. My only quibble was that the central character was so easy to get into that when the book ended and many of her personal issues were unresolved, it left me longing for a sequel.

LarryHart said...

@Paul SB on "Glory Season"

I also just read that novel a year or two back, and had a similar thought when it was all over--that it set up many perils (in the tradition of "The Perils of Pauline") for the protagonist without necessarily resolving them. Most notably, that it ended with her nickname still applicable. :)

And I don't mean that as a condemnation of the book, which was a page-turner throughout, and appropriately boasts exploring concepts about gender and social engineering which are not often touched on elsewhere.

My personal reading experience also suffered from the affliction that I'm too familiar with the author's writing style. I knew an important plot point was coming long before I was supposed to. And yet, even so, he still managed to surprise me from an entirely different direction. As I said to Dr Brin at the time, I guessed what Renna was going to be well ahead of time, but I was still taken by surprise at what else that character was.

LarryHart said...

@Daniel Duffy on vampires and zombies,

I haven't read all the way down to see if Dr Brin has responded, but he's written about the vampire:zombie::arsitocrat:decamisado analogy before. I especially like the way he characterizes warewolves in that context.

Paul SB said...

TCB, I have to agree with everything you say here, but I will add a qualifier. There is no "pure" form of Buddhism that lacks that crust of superstition. It is easy to see how the religion picked up local superstitions as it spread - all religions do that, and no sect can ever be truly closer to the original. Every religion began with a crust of superstition already built in. Maybe it shouldn't be thought of as a crust, since the superstition goes to the core of the belief system. Buddhism was created by Hindus, who believed in both dharma and karma centuries before Gautama was born. These notions - of duty and consequences - are given the supernatural reinforcement of reincarnation. This isn't so very different from the Abrahamic notion of Heaven and Hell as a reward and punishment mechanism, it just places Heaven and Hell here on Earth instead of some mythical land. Both conceptions have to dodge the question of why bad things happen to good people by placing the rewards and punishments in the non-confirmable afterlife, though reincarnation allows causes to be sought in previous lives (which turns into a blame the victim game not much different from the witch hunts of the West). All of these are superstitions. The part of Buddhism that is not superstition is the notion of tamping down our potentially insatiable desires to achieve a greater happiness than the "whoever dies with the most toys wins" meme can give us.

The universal compassion thing is not part of the original. In the dominant Mahayana sects it is assumed that karma can be transferred to others by good deeds, and that by helping others we help ourselves because we create a world full of positive energies (that's how they put it) and reduce the negative influences that tend to distract us from achieving satiability. Theravada sects, which are mainly in Sri Lanka, Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, do not buy the idea that compassion for others improves an individual's chances of attaining enlightenment. I wonder if this might have something to do with the unrest in Southeast Asia. Perhaps without this component of universal compassion it is easier for politicians to scapegoat ethnic minorities.

LarryHart said...

Louis Shalako:

Where there is no fear, there is no anger.


TCB:

"There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love."

It struck me that this was a very good bit of psychology. There is simply not room in the human mind for love and fear at the same time. You can alternate between the two emotions in short order, or be filled with one or the other. At no moment can you strongly feel both! And knowing this, it becomes possible, to some extent, to choose which you'd rather feel.


Interesting concepts--using one emotion to override others.

My father used to tell me that one cannot be afraid and angry at the same time. Which does not contradict Louis Shalko's assertion above. Fear my lead to anger, but the anger then replaces the fear. In fact, that's kind of the whole point of the anger.

I suspect that training in resistance to torture makes use of intentionally shifting one's emotional states.

Perhaps appropos nothing, Louis's quote above evokes one of my favorite lines from Marvel Comics's "Daredevil":

"A man without hope is a man without fear."

Paul SB said...

Alex, you make a good point about seeking similarities in other primates. We would have to look up average troop size and compare levels of violence, which should work okay as a proxy for fear levels, unless you have actually data on blood cortisol levels. As far as I know Robert Sapolsky's cortisol studies with baboons are unique, but it wouldn't surprise me if other people are repeating his experiments with other primates. I would expect to find lower fear levels (and likely lower cortisol levels) in chimps compared to gorillas, as gorillas use an alpha male social organization that entails more in-group violent conflict. Bonobos have much less in-group violent conflict than chimps. It would support Brin's hypothesis if we found that gorilla bands are smaller than chimp bands (it's been along time since primatology, but I think this is correct) and that bonobo bands are larger than chimp bands (not sure on that one). However, band size can be influenced by other factors than mental models, carrying capacity being the most obvious.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Tsar Trek? Did I really type that?


That should have been a spin-off with Checkov as the main character.

:)

Paul SB said...

Larry, have you read Terry Pratchett's take on vampires? Funny stuff, if nothing else. He seems to have originated the idea of vegetarian vampires (drinking the blood of animals rather than sapient beings) and has them integrating into society by swearing an oath and wearing a black ribbon to indicate their status.

Paul SB said...

Locke, Hobbes & Rousseau: When discussing human nature, these are the big 3 names we tend to invoke to represent 3 basic sets of assumptions. 1. "Man" is inherently evil and needs Law to control (Hobbes) 2. "Man" is inherently good but is made evil by society and all its laws (Rousseau) 3. "Man" is inherently flexible and can be taught to be anything we choose. Of these three, Locke is the one I would greatly prefer, and not just because he was a giant of the Enlightenment and a hero of America's founding fathers (I'm still waiting to hear about some founding mothers, though the trend to ditch the "Man" verbiage has been a net positive).

However, looking at it from a neuroscience perspective, I wouldn't completely eject Hobbes and Rousseau. Humans are not really "blank slates" and this assumption has had enormously negative impacts on our education system. Frontal lobes myelination means we have a great deal of flexibility, but we also have a lot of instinctual baggage that we ignore at our own peril, and this is true both of those purportedly "bad" instincts and purportedly "good" instincts. (I'm using a whole lot "" here, aren't I?)

Alex Tolley said...

"Some societies on Earth have had plenty to eat for a while, yet have not taken as readily to horizon expansion... especially the horizon of inclusion. Hence, to what degree does culture play a significant role? Might it be that humans only become satiated enough to extend those horizons, when they have been taught first to be at least somewhat satiable?"

Now here's an idea that goes beyond Maslow. I wonder if there could be something of a time lag.


Culture must be relevant here. In the USA we can assume that most populations are living under similar conditions of satiety. Yet clearly there are differences in terms of acceptance of "otherness", wrapped in religious trappings. Whether it is acceptance of inter-racial marriage, LGBT civil rights, or even religious tests for office (no atheists allowed). We see the same with fundamentalist Islamic groups in the ME.

Similarly, the strong anti-communist/socialist emotions in the US are culturally imposed, as this is nowhere near as rabid in the EU.

How to account for worry/fear directed at existential risks - e.g. nuclear annihilation, pandemics, ELE asteroid impacts, etc that cannot be directed at specific groups? These fears will depend on cultural factors.

It is always possible that sub-populations are self-selecting or even genetically disposed to their behaviors, but I think that culture plays the dominant role here.


Paul SB said...

Alex, I agree with you about culture playing a dominant role, but then, I am an anthropologist by training, so of course I would say that! ;]

We can't go too far with weighing the relative roles of culture and genetics at this point, because we still have a long way to go in terms of actually understanding what our genes do to influence our behavior (the scientist's eternal cry for more data!). Cultural determinism is as fraught with blind alleys as genetic determinism.

Some of what you are talking about might be usefully examined in terms of segmentary behavior. While a majority of the US population is reasonably secure in food/financial arenas, there are substantial populations that are not. Is it any surprise that, for example, the states with the highest poverty rates are the ones most adamantly opposed to civil rights? This would seem to support the Maslovian aspect of Brin's hypothesis. Here's an interesting bit I have run into as a teacher in mostly minority neighborhoods: when I talk to parents of Latino children, they mostly want their children to speak English as much as possible, some to the extent of feeling that their own lack of fluency is harming their children's prospects. The children, on the other hand, often want to show off their Spanish fluency and take great pride in their Spanish heritage, some are quite hostile about it. The older generation of immigrants want assimilation and inclusiveness, while many of their children are going in the opposite direction. They perceive themselves as having an inferior social status in the US and react by circling the wagons. I can't entirely blame them for this. Although most Caucasian people are appalled by racism, the old ways are still very much alive and well among other Caucasians. The point is that there are a lot of sociocultural factors besides food security that will speak to how broad a person's inclusion horizons will go. If the idea takes off, it could keep a lot of people busy for a long time exploring the dynamics.

I'm not sure about the anti-communism/socialism sentiments in the US and Europe. Obviously socialism is a commonly accepted mode of operation in Europe, while the US was largely seen as the primary bastion in the war against the Comintern way back in the Cold War. Here there is very little support for socialist ideas in any social group you care to name, except possibly university students, but this is a group in which individual membership is temporary. Have you noticed any class or ethnic differences in terms of support or opposition to socialism in Europe?

Ioan said...

Thank you Daniel Duffy,

I had read that article. I sometimes comment on that blog under the same name. I don't think Charlie's hypothesis is mutually exclusive to mine. I think that the popularity of vampires is due to Charlie's reasons. However, the stories told with vampires are different this time around, aside for the porn that is. It seems that this time around, coexistence is emphasized more. That's my impression, at any rate.

Alex Tolley said...

OT: This is very cool. A pocket NIR spectrophotometer The video is a bit misleading, but if it can really separate out compounds it would be awesome. I want one.

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB - the nature vs nurture is hard to untangle, but this is one reason why I earlier asked about primates where culture is very limited, therefore exposing genetics. However even here I am reminded of the Sapolsky video you directed me to showing that aggressiveness is not inherent. That example was very impressive and probably has a lot of implications for humans.

Suppose we refashion the theory around the Sapolsky findings. Could it be that that the stressors in our culture create the aggressiveness that is directed toward the other (and ourselves). That then changing them via various means, e.g. economic arrangements, state law enforcement, etc. will change the aggressiveness towards others? Of course nothing like a little added propaganda to direct that aggressiveness at state targeted populations.

Isn't this part of the mechanism of Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine"?

I wonder how much our upbringing matters. For example, how indoctrinated as a child you were in terms of dealing with strangers. Taught to fear and be wary, or to be friendly? Our western culture has increasingly emphasized fear (as we have discussed in other posts). Does this have repercussions in how we perceive others?

David Brin said...

Xanadan right: Cynical rulers manipulate horizons to instill fear of other.

Jerry: I did talk about how different cultures show different levels of elasticity of horizons, depending on their mythologies. (Or memes.)

Anon: Yes, in fact, though it sounds callous, learn the difference between anecdotal individual stories and actual, statistical metrics. For you to impugn all New Yorkers with the crime of a single, sick individual is in itself deeply, deeply sick, with the same group-guilt disease you perceive in others. Yep, feel free to conclude that New York is the racism capital. That’s why it ranks #1 on the list of places that young people of all races and nations want to go to.

Starship Potemkin sounds awfully Klingon to me.

re Glory Season: thanks guys! Every woman scientists I know, who’s read it, loved it. Every radical femismo-ist I know who has commented has raged against it without reading it. While I am a dedicated promoter of equality, who married a scientist and whose 2nd degree black belt daughter could take any of YOU… I am not a member of the inner clan of catechism-reciters and hence my novel was peremptorily ruled anathema by that inner community. A pity, since GS (I believe) genuinely contributed to the conversation.

Moreover, to this day, to the best of my knowledge, it is the only feminist experimental society in SF that was not built upon some kind of angry holocaust or catastrophe, but rather was simply designed — without rancor - by radicals who wanted to try a new style of human sexuality. One in which maleness is both tolerated and boringly rather unimportant.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

ocke, Hobbes & Rousseau: When discussing human nature, these are the big 3 names we tend to invoke to represent 3 basic sets of assumptions. 1. "Man" is inherently evil and needs Law to control (Hobbes) 2. "Man" is inherently good but is made evil by society and all its laws (Rousseau) 3. "Man" is inherently flexible and can be taught to be anything we choose. Of these three, Locke is the one I would greatly prefer, and not just because he was a giant of the Enlightenment and a hero of America's founding fathers...


Personally, I tend toward "Man is inherently good when he's not hungry, cold, and desperate." But I understand there is a significant subset of humanity to which that assessment is not accurate. It's probably not a good idea to try to fit all of "mankind" into a single one of those categories, or to think that "Everyone treats other people exactly the way I would." The fact is that there are different types of people, some more selfish or more ethical or more altruistic or more or more tolerant or more enlightened or more realistic or more scrupulous or more neighborly or more humanistic or more cautious...than others.

Unfortunately, those who aspire and rise to actual power seem to subscribe to the notion that mankind is inherently evil, but that they themselves are exception enough to guide and/or force the rest to be good. Or else, to actually be inherently evil.

Jonathan S. said...

"Starship Potemkin sounds awfully Klingon to me."

Well, the Klingons in TOS were originally modeled (rather vaguely) on Soviets, with a tinge of the Mongol Horde thrown in (it was during the Cold War, after all). Also, in TNG, Worf was rescued as a child from the Klingon colony of Khitomer by Sergey Rozhenko, a petty officer aboard the USS Intrepid, and raised on the Russian-speaking colony world of Gault by Sergey and his wife Helena, alongside their biological son Nikolai.

So there's some linkage between Russians and Tsar- er, Star Trek already. :-)

Jonathan S. said...

Edit: "...between Russians, Klingons, and Tsar- er, Star Trek..."

This forum could really use an edit function.

Abilard said...

Dr. Brin,

I think you have the underlying mechanism just right. Cultures vary within the bounds marked out by that mechanism (the borders of your cylinders). Vary too far for the fear climate of the time and face exclusion (and loss of influence within the culture) or worse. So, yes, we do have to judge others by the context of their times. It was certainly possible in 1860 to think more inclusively than Lincoln, for example, but that man or woman would not have been President.

The fact that the heirs of the Confederacy have not automatically expanded their inclusion horizons to the range allowed does not invalidate the idea here. The mechanism defines the range of possibilities but does not prescribe which possibilities will be embraced. Reducing fear is a necessary but not sufficient precondition. Innovators within the culture then have to succeed while still remaining cultural insiders. Then, if enough emulate them, the culture changes. That takes time, and the chances of such inclusive-minded insiders succeeding while remaining insiders is lessened when many in the target culture feel marginalized and mocked by the "broader" one.

It will be inteesting to see if social scientists pause long enough in their own tribal games to notice that you have advanced their field here more than the last five decades of structuralism, post-modernism, interpretive Anthropology, or sociobiology have managed. Not tonpuff up your ego though. They probably won't notice.

Alex Tolley said...

The fact that the heirs of the Confederacy have not automatically expanded their inclusion horizons to the range allowed does not invalidate the idea here. The mechanism defines the range of possibilities but does not prescribe which possibilities will be embraced. Reducing fear is a necessary but not sufficient precondition. Innovators within the culture then have to succeed while still remaining cultural insiders.

Possibly. Alternatively the hypothesis is false. No terms are defined, no measurements are provided, no data provided to show correlation. The hypothesis is so loose that any anecdote can be used for confirmatory bias.

Common experience should teach us that proximity and familiarity can increase inclusiveness, both of which can be simulated with communication technology. If so, a testable hypothesis is that reducing the range of communication channels can reduce inclusiveness. The "echo chamber" effect is one example, albeit contaminated with the cultural messages communicated. Conversely, it has been suggested that tv sitcoms like "Modern Family" have increased inclusiveness and have led to the change in polling results and ultimately the legalization of same-sex marriage.





Richard Probst said...

Re vampires as members of society, cf. Blind Sight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts. Says that vampires went extinct in Pleistocene, were brought back by corporate bioengineering. Their value to society is as apex predators in an increasingly threatening universe. Nicely done hard SF.

That said, I completely agree with David Brin's point re tribalism. We evolved as a social species, no less than ants and bees, although with much more flexibility, due to our ability to transmit memes. Memes enabled human society (unlike ants and bees, purely genetic sociality), and memes created tribalism. The primary purpose of language is to communicate, but the secondary purpose is to separate into different groups. Religion has the same secondary purpose.

Paul SB said...

So Dr. Brin, how about that GS sequel? You seemed to be suggesting that Maia was likely to find herself crew on a zep, and I had a childhood fascination with dirigibles, fantasies about having a P.O. box somewhere and just drifting off with the currents and seeing the world. I'm sure more people want you to knock out another Uplift Trilogy, which I would support, too. But I found GS a little more personable in that it focused on a single central character rather than switching vp between a huge cast. Never mind the partisans, there are plenty of fans who will buy it because they know who is a good writer.

Tacitus2 said...

I also read Glory Season for the first time rather recently, a year or so back. I found it...interesting which is high accolades for Sci Fi. Still, I don't think this would be one of the Alternities I would prefer to live in.

I was dragooned into marginal attendance at a baby shower not long ago. A couple of my adult sons and I sat as far from the Estrofestivities as we could manage and still get an attendance mark. Felt a bit like Brin's men from Glory Season, just trying to stay out of trouble and in our own world where things make sense.

The Horror....the Horror...

Tacitus

David Brin said...

Abilard good observations. I believe that the average Confederate has always had a higher inner-fear level. Perhaps partly cultural. But I am hoping they’ll find a component that is spread by mosquitoes and or grits. As Toxplasma Gondii is now known to alter the psychology of its victims. If so, then a simple pill might solve the problem.

AT:“Common experience should teach us that proximity and familiarity can increase inclusiveness, both of which can be simulated with communication technology.” What stunning malarkey! Southern slaves were in close proximity to their masters. Who responded to proximity with terror of slave revolts and savage repression.

AT may dismiss my essay as positing just a hypothesis, which is true enough. I offer no statistical proof. For most folks none is necessary. They can look across all of human history and see tolerance and inclusion ebb and flow in correlation with ambient fear.

Moreover they see it in themselves! In an apocalypse you would kill your neighbor if he’s hoarding food your children desperately need. The same neighbor who will be your ally, if you survive till the harvest, but then face a marauding band. So at one level, sure, it’s just an hypothesis. But at another, to deny it’s OBVIOUS is just being a silly pedant.

David Brin said...

re scifi:
Sorry, Klingons aren’t Soviets but a classic enslaving empire. They were racialist conquerors, not militant spreaders of a socialist dogma. In fact, a big complaint I had with Trek was ignoring the hundreds of slave races inside the Klingon Empire. I hop Axanar won’t.

A sequel to Glory Season must (alas) await my getting the self-duplicator of KILN PEOPLE>....

Abilard said...

Hi Alex,

Well, for Social Science the bar is rather low, though structuralists did at least manage to define their terms. I think such clarity is anathema to post-modernists. :)

Fear would be hard to measure. You could measure resource circumscription, however, even archaeologically, and then look for a significant correlation between in-group/out-group aggression. This would still be messy, of course, (and, yes, correlation is not causation, but could disprove the hypothesis if not present). At least this concept is progress over ruminating in the shadows of identity politics, structural thought-forms, and the just-so stories of Clifford Geertz.

Paul SB said...

Alex, I wouldn't go so far as to say that stressors create aggression - that's the Rousseau assertion - but that stressors frequently elicit aggressive responses. Look at the Whitehall Study that the video (great to see somebody took one of my suggestions seriously) connected to Sapolsky's primate research. The low-level employee they interviewed was not particularly aggressive, he was driven to neurosis by his inability to counter a very bad manager. However, I agree that anything that lowers stress levels in society is likely to lead to more inclusive thinking.

Larry, you are skirting around a very important idea, one that probably needs to be addressed on a much larger scale. It's what Ernst Mayer called "population vs. typological thinking." Mayer was one of the architects of the Modern Synthesis, and he was trying to explain why so few people get the theory of evolution. Most people think in categories, that there are certain "types" of people, or animals, plants etc. Population thinking is seeing life in terms of the individual characteristics of members of a population. There may be averages for particular characteristics (like aggressiveness or sociability), but any individual within a "type" will vary in terms of the levels of many, more or less related, characteristics. This kind of thinking is much more difficult because it see looks for complexity (and tries to understand it statistically) where typological thinking oversimplifies, making it easier and more natural, but a much less accurate way to see the world. Scalar stress strikes again.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Obviously socialism is a commonly accepted mode of operation in Europe, while the US was largely seen as the primary bastion in the war against the Comintern way back in the Cold War"

Actually, the difference between the US and (Western-)EU is essentially a matter of semantics: when an European talk about socialism, s/he's talking about run-of-the-mill social-democrat reformism, while an American talking about run-of-the-mill social-democrat reformism will use the term "liberalism", a term used in Europe to describe the center-right. Basically, we use different words to express the same idea, and the same words to express opposed ideas, which tends to confuse the hell out of the 99,9% of people not used to jungle between political lingoes.

Alex Tolley said...

What stunning malarkey! Southern slaves were in close proximity to their masters. Who responded to proximity with terror of slave revolts and savage repression.

You don't appear to understand the difference between "can" and "will". :)

Slavers have always known the risks of maintaining a large majority of slaves. The Greeks feared the helots revolting. I think one can argue that proximity made the masters understand that their slaves were not animals and how they would respond when treated that way. More recently I recall California's then Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante give a speech that implied that white Californians might just worry if a Latino was to become Governor after the way they treated Latinos. Conversely, we have the story of Huckleberry Finn. But the point of raising this is to show exactly the confirmatory bias of picking anecdotes. Fear of slaves vs accepting LGBTs. Different contexts and circumstances, but perhaps with the common denominator of empathizing with the other due to proximity. This is used in advertising for charitable donations for starving children in third world countries to adopting animals from shelters. The camera brings proximity and transforms the abstract to the concrete. Finally, there are therapies to overcome phobias by exposing the patient to the fear generating response so that familiarity and a non-adverse outcome helps overcome the [irrational] fear.

@Bilard. A simple fear measurement might be skin galvanic response or heart rate. Expose the subject to images and video of "other" and measure the response. Jonathan Haidt has suggested that the underlying emotion is "disgust". This should be measurable and testable.

My question is this: is "familiarity" just "habituation"? Does acceptance require empathy, and can we measure this? (using multiple choice question tests) before and after familiarization and possible empathization?

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

was dragooned into marginal attendance at a baby shower not long ago. A couple of my adult sons and I sat as far from the Estrofestivities as we could manage and still get an attendance mark.


I live with a wife and daughter, plus two female cats. And sometimes between one and five of my daughter's teenage (female) friends. My personality is such that I actually prefer such surroundings to that of the male-bonding gym-locker boys' club atmosphere that we guys are supposed to enjoy. But even so, I often have to express the notion that there is "too much estrogen in the room."

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Sorry, Klingons aren’t Soviets but a classic enslaving empire.


They were analogues to the USSR only in that one episode where they were surreptitiously supplying flintlocks to one side of a war, in response to which, Kirk had to do the same for the other side. "A Private Little War", I believe was the title. Aside from that, I agree, they were more "mongol horde" than anything else.

They were racialist conquerors, not militant spreaders of a socialist dogma. In fact, a big complaint I had with Trek was ignoring the hundreds of slave races inside the Klingon Empire.


I was speaking of TOS. Not sure if you are or not. Klingons in TNG and DS9 were very different.

A sequel to Glory Season must (alas) await my getting the self-duplicator of KILN PEOPLE


How far off can it be before there is a software package which can knock off a sequel to an existing book?

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Slavers have always known the risks of maintaining a large majority of slaves. The Greeks feared the helots revolting. I think one can argue that proximity made the masters understand that their slaves were not animals and how they would respond when treated that way.


Quite right. Slavers' proximity to their slaves is a different thing from free whites living in proximity to free blacks. In the latter case, the humanity of the "other" becomes evident through association, observation, and perhaps empathy. In the former case, none of that matters. Slavers' understanding that their slaves are human and will react to injustice as humans do only increases their fear and subsequent need for aggressive repression.


More recently I recall California's then Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante give a speech that implied that white Californians might just worry if a Latino was to become Governor after the way they treated Latinos


That seemed to be the way many viewed candidate Obama back in aught-8. That if the president was black, whites would become the recipients of Jim Crow and such. I had already lived through that same dynamic when Chicago elected its first black mayor back in 1983.

David Brin said...

“A couple of my adult sons and I sat as far from the Estrofestivities as we could manage and still get an attendance mark.”

⇐ !!! see guys? This is why I SO want Tacitus to stay around. What efficiency of prose!

Abilard here’s a correlation that should be available archaeologically. The percentage of childrens’ bones that show signs of starvation, versus the size and scope of the political alliance network of the town or village.

AT: LGBT acceptance fits my model perfectly.

LArryhart, sorry but the omission of slave planets is my biggest peeve about Trek. Look at the SIZE of the Klingon Empire, even in STNG and DS9. That volume would contain as many different races as the similar volume Federation. So why do we never hear or see of those races? Did the Klingons exterminate them? Quarantine them?

The Chernobyl event of Star Trek movie I think #5 supposedly reset things, knocking the Empire down a peg or two. Yet there they were in TNG as dangerous as ever. I prefer to imagine that their getting knocked down a peg meant they had to concede liberty for 100 crucial species… while still retaining the empire’s resource base and territorial borders.

Alex Tolley said...

AT: LGBT acceptance fits my model perfectly.

So provide a test that would falsify your model.

Jonathan S. said...

My interpretation in TOS was that the Klingons probably either enslaved or eliminated all other species in their Empire. (John M. Ford, in his excellent but noncanon novel The Final Reflection, posited that they were enslaved, but sometimes used in "genetic fusions" so that warriors facing an enemy too large to simply steamroll over would have some insight into the enemy's thought process. The Klingons we saw all looked human-like because humans were the dominant species in the Federation, and the officers in conflict with the Feds were all Klingon-Human fusions.)

We never saw slaves or conquered worlds in TOS because the Klingons were only featured in a handful of episodes, and the most we ever learned of their ways was that they revered a figure known as "Kahless the Unforgettable" ("The Savage Curtain"), that females had a place in a warship's command structure ("Day of the Dove"), and that duplicity was almost a way of life for them ("A Private Little War", "Errand of Mercy", "The Trouble With Tribbles"). We never saw a Klingon-occupied world aside from Organia, where they would execute locals to enforce discipline (which doesn't work that well when the locals are transhuman energy-based life forms that look like simple farmers because it's kind of a hobby of theirs).

And as noted, the Klingons in TNG and later seem to have engaged in a wholesale swap of cultures with the TOS Romulans...

David Brin said...

Jonathan that still does not forgive the Trek folks for making out the Klingons as adorable, endearing macho guys in TNG and DS9, never ever mentioning that their macho bluster wasn't just aimed at each other.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Look at the SIZE of the Klingon Empire, even in STNG and DS9. That volume would contain as many different races as the similar volume Federation. So why do we never hear or see of those races? Did the Klingons exterminate them? Quarantine them?


In TOS, I don't remember seeing any subjugated races of any empire. For the most part, class-M planets seemed to be populated by humans. If I thought about it at all (which I rarely did), I presumed the Klingons took over planets that were unpopulated, or populated by sub-sapient life. Certainly, there was never a plot about the Federation liberating any captive populations from the Klingons. Or Romulans either, for that matter. The Star Trek "universe" just didn't seem to work that way.

The closest we got to seeing the Klingons establish a military occupation of a civilized world was the episode with the Organians. And that turned out...well, different from expected.

David Brin said...

Not true LarryHart. I recall at least one TOS episode did mention "subject populations."

Paul SB said...

A sequel to Glory Season must (alas) await my getting the self-duplicator of KILN PEOPLE>....

In other words, too busy. I know the feeling! Wouldn't the old Calvin & Hobbes Clone-o-matic be easier? I got the impression that those clay people would add up to a huge bill, what with having to make a new one each day. Or how about co-authoring with a sibling, the next best thing in the absence of imagined technology? Make it an old-fashioned family business, if any of them are so inclined.

locumranch said...


Even though this concept has been thoroughly debunked by evolutionary theory, we can accept on faith & anecdote that 'altruism' actually exists (as our host prefers to do) or we can recognize that our progressive host mistakes selfish paternalism -- aka "the attitude (of a person or a government) that subordinates should be controlled in a fatherly way for their own good (in a manner) usurping individual responsibility and the liberty of choice" -- for "the practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others" (and/or the true definition of altruism), which is the same paternalistic error that the EU falls into when it attempts to infantalise the Greeks by usurping their national sovereignty for "their own good".

More interestingly, a similar paternalistic error seems to corrupt our host's idea of 'Otherness' wherein diversity is subsumed into a greater conformity "for its own" (and the greater) good, even when such an 'absorption' corrupts and usurps the self-determinative interests that define 'Otherness' which, coincidentally (?!?), is also the original definition of Fascism (for weak sticks bundled together to make a single strong stick is called 'fasces').

As my mother always said (15,250 repetitions per month for 27 years), "Helping (ie. altruism) is doing what you are ASKED to do", not doing what you believe is in someone else's best interests despite their howsoever childish objections (that's paternalism), just as forcing central authority upon diversity (aka 'incorporation') for 'the greater good' is called fascism.

Best

Jonathan S. said...

"Wouldn't the old Calvin & Hobbes Clone-o-matic be easier?"

Not really. All Calvin's clones wound up arguing with him, before they realized that they could do whatever they wanted and he'd get blamed. I don't think I'd want to see what Dr. Brin's clones would get up to in that scenario...

Jonathan S. said...

Locum, if your mother actually said that - well, it explains a lot about you, I guess.

David Brin said...

Oh, don't bother, Jonathan. It used to be that he came here only partly to snipe, but also out of interest in an online community that challenged with ideas. But lately he has gone so hostile that he's starting to just get boring.

Note he doesn't even do homework, or he'd have noted that my two papers on altruism are in a tome entitled PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM, which goes into modes of oppressive beneficence vastly more detailed and clear-eyed than he... or his mom... can imagine..

Yes indeed, clones have rights! Clones are people. My dittos have to do what they are told, or they won't get their memories inloaded (which is their continuity and afterlife.) I meant it to be disturbing! Many moral quandaries... that you never have to face, if you decide not to use the machine.

Paul SB said...

Jonathan, those were clones of John Calvin, not clones of David Brin. Different mold, different cast.

Tony Fisk said...

Talk of clones reminds me of a story I've just read ("Nothing O'Clock": a rather good Dr. Who tale by Neil Gaiman.) It describes the havoc wrought by a being that can 'clone' by continuously looping itself through a period of time. Intentionally or not, it also touches on the wholesale purchase of Real Estate by Sinister Foreigners (see Cory Doctorow's recent post on why he's leaving London), which leads us into that 'Fear of the Other' that drives back one's inclusion horizon.

I disagree with the emphasis in David's earlier response to Xanadan. The way in which the Australian LNP have handled illegal immigrants arriving in Australia by boat (not just recently, but for the past 14 years) suggests that they are cynical rulers manipulating *fear of the other* to *control horizons*, rather than vice versa.

That they have just managed to get the Labor Party leaders to agree with them suggests they are succeeding.

locumranch said...


Any "hostility" is unintended.

It is a well-established fact that what once called 'altruism' in biological literature amounts to little more than genetic (conspecific) kinship preference, indicating that the human ability for interspecies (altruistic) love, as demonstrated by the human impulse to sacrifice oneself for a beloved pet, ideology or artifact, is tantamount to a shared cultural delusion, assuming that such a sacrifice does not directly facilitate conspecific human fitness.

Ask Tacitus what he thinks about medical paternalism; ask yourself if you want to submit unquestioningly to treatments (howsoever noxious) that your doctor, minister or government say is in your 'scientific' best interest; ask yourself if it is appropriate to project the new human 'white man's burden' on to a non-homologous 'Otherness'; and then ask yourself if it is appropriate for human vegans to force their vegetarian diet on carnivorous lions.

Clones are people! Clones have rights! So do whales, insects, plants and aliens. They have the right to live, suffer, die, eat or be eaten. But, oligarchs, conservatives, republicans & unborn fetuses, not so much. This Brave New Era of Omni-Inclusion is tantamount to narcissism (self-love) as we see ourselves in everything and everything in ourselves.


Best

Tony Fisk said...

iow Locum has been assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Daniel Duffy said...

The Klingons in TOS were analogs for the Cold War era Red Chinese - not the Russians. Cruel, fanatical and vaguely Oriental in appearance, the Klingons played to the fears of an American audience that was witnessing the worse excesses of the Cultural Revolution, had fought human waves of screaming Chinese in Korea, and was getting involved in another Asian War in Vietnam. The Klingons also tapped into American cultural fears of the Yellow Peril, a SF trope going back to Flash Gordon's Ming the Merciless and early Heinlein.

It was the stolid Romulans who were the Russian analogs. Similar in appearance to our friendly Vulcans (aka Europeans) the Romulans were more like us than the Klingons. They were brave, even noble (the best ST episode ever of any series remains "Balance of Terror" - yet another Cold War term).

Kirk was a Cold Warrior, a man who got laid more often than JFK - another Cold Warrior and naval hero who Kirk is modeled on. And it was Kirk who pulled a "Nixon goes to China" in one of the movies where the Federation and the Klingon become friends (in the movie Spock even used that phrase as a joke - who says Vulcans aren't funny?).

So by TNG, the Klingon had evolved to meet current political conditions and became post-Nixon China.

Daniel Duffy said...

If you haven't seen it, you have to watch the fan flick "Prelude to Axanar":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W1_8IV8uhA

It is the most perfect ST "episode" I've seen in years.

Paul SB said...

Daniel, when I saw Star Trek as a wee lad, I thought the Klingons were modeled on Spaniards, as from Early Modern English Lit, and/or the pirate movies that were so popular back then. Especially the sword fighting scenes in Day of the Dove lent that impression. But it's not uncommon for a writer to mix tropes, isn't it? So the Klingons have elements of Spaniard, something of a swashbuckling aspect, but filled a role in the fictive universe similar to Communist China, all projected into a distant future. Likewise the Romulans had an obvious Roman inspiration, but we first see them as analogs of Russian submarines sneaking around our territory with a dangerous new super weapon (can you say Cuban Missile Crisis?) Still one of my favorites, but it shows how our literature, even future-reaching science fiction, reflects the concerns of our times. If it didn't, no one would take an interest.

Tony, re your observation about the Australia LNP, one of my best history professors, after running through a catalog of great leaders of some century (I forget which one), made the point that the leaders are generally a couple decades behind the people. Political leaders try their best to manipulate the people at large, but the culture evolves in spite of their efforts. I think the recent referendum on marriage rights in the US is a good illustration. There are probably a lot more ordinary citizens who support marriage equality in the country than there are (proportionally) senators and representatives. Eventually the ideological composition of a democracy's leaders will catch up to where the people were a generation ago, as the people themselves continue to evolve. In the long run, the leaders are really just holding us back. This is one of the reasons I ended up switching from a history major (like that was going to get me a job) to a social science major (ditto).

Alex Tolley said...

@PSB Likewise the Romulans had an obvious Roman inspiration, but we first see them as analogs of Russian submarines sneaking around our territory

The Romulans were Chinese analogs. Recall that they hadn't been seen for a century, which was analogous to what happened to China under Mao. That they resembled Vulcans, I thought was the analog to Japan (Vulcan).

Treebeard said...

Surely most of this “progress” is attributable to people having easy, unthreatened lives and living in a historical bubble. When they find themselves in more difficult conditions, such as prison, war or facing immigrant invasions, they quickly revert to tribalism. So this idea of inclusivity is very fragile, and probably won’t survive hard times. Already it is fading in Europe, as the natives find themselves under demographic threat from alien cultures.

Modern America is exhibit A of a fragile society – culturally, economically, environmentally, politically, ethnically, etc. So it’s way too early to be touting American society as a model for the entire planet (which is essentially what Dr. Brin/Star Trek/etc. propaganda is about). Wait until we’ve gone through some really hard times, as all older, more time-tested societies have, and see how much of your ideology survives. There’s a reason Russians are like they are: because they’ve been through incredibly hard times, beyond the imagination of most Americans, and their values allowed them to survive.

When things get rough in America it will almost certainly break down along tribal lines, and men of other tribes will be coming for you and your children, and they aren’t going to care much that you were the “good whites” who made liberal noises about diversity and inclusion. Take a look at India/Pakistan for a reality check; people there have lived in close proximity for centuries and are genetically indistinguishable but hate each other as much as any two tribes on the planet. This is why many of us find liberal cultural engineering, with its disarming effects (essentially opening the gates to our conquerors), psychological shallowness and short time horizons, so reckless and disturbing. Some things (e.g. race, Islam) resist liberal memetic engineering, and quickly re-emerge when things get tough, and ignoring that reality for the sake of some Star Trek fantasy puts us all in peril.

Alex Tolley said...

@DD - That 20 minute segment has come a long way from the teaser trailer awhile back. It's very impressive quality, with what appears to be a good script. And appropriate to the conversation about "otherness".

raito said...

It is probably worth noting that these days there's 3 ways in which there's an awful lot more 'other' than there used to be back when a tribe was a bunch of cavemen.

1. A persons' tribe no longer needs to be geographically close. Communication and all. And with members scattered all over, there's just a lot more perimeter for 'others' to contact.

2. More people now choose their own tribe. Communication again, coupled a bit with mobility. And that usually means more insularity. When it's a few associated families, you're more likely to get diversity of opinion on some things. When people join those who think like them, it's less likely. And having a narrower view of the world makes for more 'other'.

3. It's no longer a physical perimeter that 'others' contact. Communication again. The caveman had no clue what 'others' were several hundred miles away. And it didn't much matter. Today, the entire world is the perimeter. Then again, what people several hundred miles away (or across the world) are doing can have an effect...

And on the 'is it better now?' front, it might have on been 60 minutes last night. Story about a guy who had a lot of surgery on his leg, is walking, and expects to work again. He himself said that 15 years ago or so, they'd have just cut the leg off.

Crisbaj said...

Dr Brin, Thanks for an engaging and thought-provoking angulation of Segmentary Opposition construct with Tribal/Ethnos group theory. I welcome having some live open session debating on this material...
One thing to point out is how you curiously used the volume-cylinder visuals and didn't connect them, or mention that the volume-cylinder's most famous 'user' is the cognitive-development theorist (and hero to all things child psych)Jean Piaget.
That association led me to triangulate Piaget's construct of human cognitive development (stages of sensori-motor, pre-operational, concrete-operational and formal-operational) with sociologic cognitive development AND this discussion of Segmentary Opposition/expanding-contracting Horizons... Hmmm! I wonder if Piaget's individual development theory could be expanded to the larger Tribal/Ethnos level... interesting...
I also wanted to point out that you have done some 'horizon expansion' writing in the past; the 'send out the warning-net' of virtual intelligences at the end of EXISTENCE came from a portrayed expansion of 'horizons', and a realization that maybe it all needs a different approach...
thanks again,
crisbaj

David Brin said...

Thanks raito and Crisbaj for cogent input. It helped me shrug off the dopes.
Thrive on all.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to be proven wrong when I see the video of Dr. Brin walking the streets of New York wearing a turban and seeing all of the acceptance that the true blue horizon expanders send his way.

A.F. Rey said...

Tsar Trek? Did I really type that? I honestly across 40 years never saw that. What an image!

It's like I've always said: dyslexia is the mother of invention. :)

David Brin said...

Take that, Blue America - we’re number one! Montgomery, Ala., has more cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia than large U.S. cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans, according to a report released today from a renter’s website. Southern cities such as Memphis, St. Louis, New Orleans; Killeen, Texas; and Fayetteville, North Carolina also made the top 10 of the list. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/07/27/cdc-data-says-montgomery-most-sexually-diseased-us-city-group/

I’ll gladly stop talking about such things — along with rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, divorce, domestic violence, gambling etc… when Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz and Fox News stop yammering lies about how much “more moral” bubba-folk are than all those pencil-neck university types. You’re not.

Paul SB said...

Crisbaj, I completely forgot about Piaget's cylinder diagrams. Don't tell anybody or they'll take my teaching license away! I think you could easily extend Piaget's ideas to higher levels of social organization, though that may be true of many psychological theories. However, you have to be aware of ways in which extending the metaphor (as it were) could lead to inappropriate conclusions, because the behavior of groups is not just the behavior of individuals multiplied by the number of individuals. An example might be Dawkins' idea of memes as a cognitive equivalent of genes. The analogy works in some ways, but (as Dawkins acknowledges) there are ways in which it doesn't. Unless you are a bdelloidian, you can only get genes directly from your parents, but memes don't have that limitation. I can see how you might want to equate the tallest cylinder Dr. Brin shows here with the sensori-motor phase, for instance, but I'm less sure that all the typical characteristics of that phase would map onto social organization. It could be an interesting puzzle to tackle, though, if you have time to write a thesis.

Paul SB said...

Raito, you make some great points about how communication technology is affecting social identity. It reminded me of the cartoon that says, "On the internet, no one knows you're a dog." What you said about people choosing their own tribe is true to a certain extent. Some of us seem to have chosen the Brin tribe, though others are probably more multi-tribal and spend time interacting on other sites. However, the idea has its limits. On the street, I can't do much to hide several demographic factors that build identity in society. I'm pretty clearly male, post-middle aged, and no matter how long I hang out on the beach flirting with skin cancer, few would mistake me for anything else but Caucasian. Still, there are aspects of tribe that we all choose, at least to some extent, and aspects that cannot be determined at a glance. My career, ethnic origin, major hobbies or other activity-based social groups, religion or any other thing that people build communities around. Still, you are right that modern communication technology allows us a level of flexibility not really possible before.

Now my mind is ruminating on a Tribe Brin T-shirt. It would have to have space dolphins on it, at least.

Paul SB said...

I could point out to our anonymous sniper that at least where I live, in the greater Los Angeles area, I see people wearing turbans all the time. There is a Sikh temple less than 2 miles from my house, I have Pakistani neighbors next door, and I have yet to see any violence or even childish jeers. It would probably be pointless, though.

Salam alaikum

Alex Tolley said...

Musk, Wozniak and Hawking urge ban on warfare AI and autonomous weapons

I suspect it will be futile, but a case of life imitating art (Dune's Butlerian Jihad)?

I can see robots as being an interesting case of "otherness" - both desirable and something to be feared. Military robots are likely to be merciless and without pity. Considerable collateral casualties of civilians is going to be an inevitable outcome once they are fully deployed.

Alex Tolley said...

I could point out to our anonymous sniper that at least where I live, in the greater Los Angeles area, I see people wearing turbans all the time.

I didn't see any obvious problems for Sikhs in Britain when I lived in London. There are a minority of Sikh students at the local UC campus and I have not seen or heard of any problems there either.

Which isn't to say there are no problems, but I certainly have never put Sikhs outside my inclusiveness zone, nor am I aware of any of my friends doing so. More importantly, how do I persuade those who don't want to include Sikhs, to change their minds and do so. It seems to me that openness and familiarity are the best ways to do this.

Jonathan S. said...

We have a small community of Sikh here, as well as at least one Muslim family - in semi-rural Washington state. Not exactly a bustling metropolis, ya know?

And so, as we can see, Newton's Law of Personal Stories holds - for every anecdote, there is an equal but opposite anecdote.

Tacitus2 said...

David

I was tinkering around the other day...trying to correlate those remarkable wards in Phillie where not a single vote was cast for Mitt Romney. Not one. Nary a mistaken click nor a man or woman with the courage or delusion to leap away from the herd. Zero.
I did some correlation with STD and teen pregnancy rates and I think I could "prove" to the satisfaction of most that Deep Blue voters have more STDs, premature births, etc than anybody else in this great land of ours.

You know, but seldom go there, that the places you crow about as evidence of Red depravity are in fact mostly blue enclaves in Red states.

Montgomery County AL btw voted 2:1 for Obama over Romney if you consider this a fact instead of...I believe you like the term anecdote for inconvenient data. If you looked at the city instead of the county it would be a bigger differential I suspect.

http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/statesub.php?year=2012&fips=1101&f=0&off=0&elect=0

Lets be really honest, shall we?

A wide array of social ills - see above - are endemic in poor populations. Are they cause, effect or both?

And the reality is that "Blue" America is a biphasic entity. A well educated, orderly bunch on one side. Inner city dysfunction on the other. (some rural dysfunction too it must be said).

It is mean spirited to point out that poor people have cooties. But it is true. This is color independent.

I have in the past given you free reign to point out that Red controlled states that don't appear to be trying that hard to help their "Blue" citizens ( or poor citizens generally I guess ) may not be doing a good job of being "their brother's keeper".

Granted.

But you come across as petty to point out that struggling people of any political persuasion have more STDs. And arrests. And broken families.
We already know this.

I detect no actual reluctance on your part to continue to hammer this point.

Now, on another matter, there was a horrific attack on a Sikh Temple here in WI a few years back. A rare incident of actual right wing racist domestic terrorism. Until the more recent horror this stood out as a stark reminder that bad things happen even in this enlightened age. We have not had an epidemic of McVeighs but there are some out there, a fact that I hate.

Tacitus

Alex Tolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Tolley said...

@Tacitus2 And the reality is that "Blue" America is a biphasic entity. A well educated, orderly bunch on one side. Inner city dysfunction on the other. (some rural dysfunction too it must be said).

That is a good point. The granularity that DB uses is likely too low. It is also contaminated by the gerrymandering that makes what should be blue states, red.

Poverty and lack of education (sometimes state mandated inaccurate sex ed) are likely more correlated variables, which a multi-variate test could demonstrate. It has probably even been done somewhere.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

But it's not uncommon for a writer to mix tropes, isn't it? So the Klingons have elements of Spaniard, something of a swashbuckling aspect, but filled a role in the fictive universe similar to Communist China, all projected into a distant future. Likewise the Romulans had an obvious Roman inspiration, but we first see them as analogs of Russian submarines sneaking around our territory with a dangerous new super weapon (can you say Cuban Missile Crisis?)


Alex Tolley:

The Romulans were Chinese analogs. Recall that they hadn't been seen for a century, which was analogous to what happened to China under Mao.


You're doubtless both partly right, but there's no point claiming a definitive one-size-fits-all to the analogies. I don't see how anyone can doubt that the (TOS) Klingons look like Mongols, and that the Romulans, who hail from Romulus and Remus, and whose leader is "the preator" have some Roman in them.

Nevertheless, the individual writers on individual episodes used the races to make their political points regardless of how well the characterization fit. So "The Enterprise Incident" was an allegory to the real life "Pueblo Incident", casting the Romulans as either Soviets or their proxies. While "A Private Little War" obviously casts the Klingons in the role of Soviets and the planets' natives as Vietnam. Not claiming any of this tells the whole story--just that it's not as simple as any one thing.

LarryHart said...

Treebeard:

Take a look at India/Pakistan for a reality check; people there have lived in close proximity for centuries and are genetically indistinguishable but hate each other as much as any two tribes on the planet.


And yet, look at Devon Street in Chicago some time, where Indian, Pakistani, and "Indo/Pak" shops exist side by side with no ill will evident whatsoever. Just sayin'

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

I can see robots as being an interesting case of "otherness" - both desirable and something to be feared.


I recently re-read Vonnegut's 1953 novel "Player Piano" which made the case against replacing humans with machines in everything. One character said he hated machines because they were slaves. Another (rightly) pointed out that they were "slaves" who didn't mind working and weren't being abused in order to make them work. True, said the first guy, but they compete with human beings, and in order for human beings to compete with slaves, they must become slaves as well.

60 years later, that's where we're headed.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, can you name a single reason why anyone in a racial and impoverished ward WOULD vote for Romney? If cheaters were fixing the vote, wouldn’t they have sniffed that 100% seems suspicious and dropped in 1% deliberately? What you’ve done is offer up an incantation. Since Republicans own both the WI state government AND the voting machine companies, the questions are:

1- HOW could such cheating occur? And if it was local ballot stuffing, why not ask the Kochs for $ to hire more poll watchers?

2- If it’s voting machines, do the ones in WI have paper audit trails? In CA each voter can see his or her receipt go into a box and randomly selected precincts are audited, and no one dares to tamper with the machines, then. Do you have that? Why not? Most blue states do it.

3- that incantation is like this old saw: “Obama refused to even compromise on the ACA! Proof? Not one single republican voted for it!”

Whaaaaaaa? Those two assertions are connected… how? Not one gopper voted for it because the GOP is the most tightly disciplined partisan machine in 150 years.

Tacitus pleas, please PROVE that “Deep Blue voters have more STDs, premature births, etc than anybody else in this great land of ours.” That is utter, utter drivel. Are you going to narrow it down to impoverished ghettos and call THAT “deep blue” while leaving out the universities and better off urban areas?

No, you may NOT call me “mean-spirited. I am, simply sick and tired and disgusted by bubba-aggression. By the relentless, endless, ceaseless drumbeat of “we are the REAL americans and far more moral than university/city folk!” Don’t you DARE try to claim that I started this.

Indeed, most blue americans know nothing of the stats I have raised. It would never occur to them to use them. But EVERY redder you know has chanted the moral superiority myth – volubly – thousands of times. What’s more is, you know it.

When Hannity and Huckabee and Limbaugh and Heritage stop their holier than thou drumbeat, I will stop refuting it.

Tacitus2 said...

David

You sir, are ranting.

I already mentioned two entirely plausible reasons why a 100% vote in any precinct outside of North Korea would be implausible. Human error and human weirdness. I was not accusing anyone of cheating. Just making a point that there are some local areas that are so blue as to be off in an area of the spectrum way beyond ultraviolet...and that these areas are also the epicenters of great social disruption. I specifically said that this was not the entire make up of the Democratic party.
Then you go on to ask questions about WI voting issues when I was addressing matters in Philadelphia. There were some similar wards in OH also.

You next wander off in directions I am having a hard time parsing at all.

I am expressing my opinion...that you sound mean spirited. I know that you are in fact, not.

But you are using words somewhat carelessly. For an accomplished writer this is like a carpenter driving in crooked nails.

And if you are actually feeling "sick, tired and disgusted" maybe visiting some new topics would do you some good. Politics seems painful to you and frankly it is not your best work.

Tacitus

Robert said...

I agree with Tacitus. (Not that surprising really.)

Thus I put forth as a topic of discussion for your next Blog post: Axanar.

Critique and discuss Prelude to Axanar and the plans for the Axanar movie... what you like about it, what you feel they should have done differently, and what this bodes for future science fiction genre movies... not just for Star Trek, but possibly for series such as Babylon 5, Firefly/Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, and a multitude of others.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert I loved the Axanar and I posted suggestions. I know Marc Zicree whose SPACE COMMAND will have a 1950s pre-Trek feel.

and now...

onwad

David Brin said...

onward

Alex Tolley said...

Poverty and lack of education (sometimes state mandated inaccurate sex ed) are likely more correlated variables, which a multi-variate test could demonstrate. It has probably even been done somewhere.

And it has.

SHORT REPORT
Social capital, poverty, and income inequality as
predictors of gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia and AIDS
case rates in the United States


National Data Shows Comprehensive Sex Education Better at Reducing Teen Pregnancy than Abstinence-Only Programs

No axe-grinding politics involved. Sex-education is an important determinant concerning STDs, IOW, education trumps religion in keeping STDs low. Poverty and being poorly connected increases STD rates.

State religiosity impacts school sex education:
Associations Between Sexuality Education in Schools and Adolescent Birthrates

"There was a significant inverse relationship between a state’s religiosity and the percentage of schools in the state teaching condom efficacy or how to correctly use a condom averaged over time), indicating the more religious the state, the less condom education was taught (condom efficacy r=−0.48; P=.02; correct condom use r=−0.58; P=.003). The political ideology of a state was significantly associated with most of the sexuality education topics (significant r ranged from 0.43 to 0.68), indicating that the more liberal the state, the more sexuality education topics were taught. Political ideology was explored as a potential covariate in multivariable models but was not retained in the analysis because it was highly correlated with the sexuality education topics."

Bottom line is that sex education matters. States that are religious tend to have poorer sex-ed. Poverty is also important and so poorer populations will have more unwanted pregnancies and STDs. While it relatively hard to eradicate poverty, it it much easier to mandate good sex education in schools. Not doing so is a result of allowing religion to interfere with practical education.

mk045 said...

I loved the article and the concept behind it. There was one very short paragraph in the middle that bugged me a little, because I think there is actually hard data that contradicts.

Is this model the best one, yet, at explaining such differences? Certainly it is far better than any insipid “left-right political axis” or words such as “conservatism” and “liberalism.”

I remember, perhaps a couple years ago, a number of studies that looked at the liberal-conservative axis. Yes, I agree that it gets too much focus, but the studies in question showed that there is a level of biological reality to it. One is an article on Salon. Not the most balanced source on the net, but it goes into the topic and has a link to the research. My quick Google search also turned up other links, articles, and studies.

Using fMRI, researchers presented test subjects with pictures, questions, discussions on various topics. Subjects were asked to make responses or solve puzzles. They separately tested these subjects to understand voting patterns, liberal-conservative self-identification, etc. They found that those who identified/tested as conservative showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with fear while answering the questions, while those who identified/tested as liberal showed increased brain activity in areas associated with logic, complexity, and problem solving.

So there is, to some degree and limited by the cultural baggage, a connection between conservatism and fear. This ties remarkably to the observations in this article that conservatism is associated with wanting to keep horizons tight. The initial part of the article mentions that changing levels of fear affect horizons. But this also implies that unsustainable horizons, in the face of cultural pressures, by itself induces fear. Whatever you call it, a fear-based mindset, which we currently to refer to as "conservatism", is a real thing.

Great work. I really look forward to a next iteration.

Anonymous said...

"It's like I've always said: dyslexia is the mother of invention. :)"

I thought it was the mover of intention :D

David Brin said...

MK045 I never said there weren't personality diffs tween those who call themselves "leftist" "Liberals" and "conservatives." In fact I made very clear that there ARE such diffs.

(And "liberals" are very different than their leftist allies. It is not an ordained alliance except by present necessity.)

No, what I dismissed as stupid is the actual common MEANING of "left/right" which YOU could not personally define well, if your life depended on it, nor would your definition be similar to that from anyone you know. It is a ridiculous, lobotomizing metaphor.

If you want to continue, please do so under the most recent blog.

success.

With cordial regards,

David Brin
http://www.davidbrin.com





now onward

Deuxglass said...

The episode called “Mirror, Mirror” of the original Star Trek series already explored the “Starship Potemkin” idea rather well. Kirk and his team are projected into an alternative universe in which the Federation is an empire and Star Fleet is run by barbarians. Conquest, subjugation, slavery and intrigue are the only rules. In the end Kirk convinces the barbarian Spock that unless the Empire changes it will fall.

Dr. Brin,

This post of yours is a very tall order. It would take a book to fully explore the ideas you brought up. I will do my best to take on just a few parts.