Trump and the evolution of human social behavior

I have not written for a long time. I have been waiting and watching. Enough time has gone by for me to believe that I now have something to contribute. For those who do not know me I am a retired faculty member and author of a couple of books and lots of papers in refereed journals. They span the spectrum from very technical science to more recent political philosophy. The latter is manifest here or in my book with Jim Coffman.

I have a world view that arises from over half a century of study and throwing out my ideas for feedback and criticism and reworking them again and again.

I supported Bernie in the last election with a caveat. I knew the system was rigged and that the oligarchy would never give up power. I also saw Bernie and and the others as products of a system not as its drivers.

One central thesis I follow is the broadest sense of evolution and I apply it to human social evolution. The word evolution has become tainted and has a lot of baggage attached. Yet what is happening is happening in an evolutionary context so we need the idea.

One central truth about evolution is that as something develops it looses choices. Once a step is made all the other options are gone. There are new options. Because of what has developed these options are less versatile. One consequence of this in the biological world is extinction. It would be wise for us to consider that as a possible parallel for social systems evolution.

The system that Trump has successfully found his niche in has been developing for a long time. Its recent identity is our country, but the racism that we see now was there in the Europeans long before that.

Another system has been evolving in close coupling with it, namely religion. In relatively recent times one need only look at the Cartesian mechanistic science that made a deal with the Church to let the Church rule over matters of the mind while science studied the machine we substituted for our understanding of the body.

So it has come to where we are and Trump fell into a place carved out by the believers and the mechanists. As one reads about this day by day little is spoken about this natural consequence of something that has been in progress for centuries. Rather one reads the astonished disbelief that it could come to this.

Let me know your thoughts. If they involve elections I will dismiss them offhand.

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Comments

k9disc's picture

Just let me know how to turn off the gene for legal bribery and perpetual war.

I really like the idea of looking at the body politic as an evolving organism.

It is not "fitness" or quality that dictates how successful an organism is, but how well it reproduces. People who buck the system might be more "fit" for the task at hand, but what is the reproduction rate of those outliers? They adapt to the environment to reproduce or go extinct.

This also fits with business, but I'm interested in pushing alternative metaphors to business. I think this organism and evolution might be a good one.

In order for positive, progressive non-corporate politicians to flourish and reproduce, the biota need to alter the environment. A long tail of behavioral and social habits needs to be created that creates the change required in the environment to be beneficial to progressive reproduction.

Thanks a bunch, Don. Nice new lens to view this through. Time to exhume some bodies and do some post mortem DNA work to check out those individual genes and map the evolution of our politics.

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

divineorder's picture

@k9disc

It is not "fitness" or quality that dictates how successful an organism is, but how well it reproduces. People who buck the system might be more "fit" for the task at hand, but what is the reproduction rate of those outliers? They adapt to the environment to reproduce or go extinct.

The author basically said that person's actions were an example why we should stfu. NYT, what did I expect?

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A truth of the nuclear age/climate change: we can no longer have endless war and survive on this planet. Oh sh*t.

don mikulecky's picture

@k9disc evolution does not succeed by reproduction alone. The products of that reproduction need to be sustained. They have to survive predators. It is a complex issue.

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

k9disc's picture

have said procreate; but even that would not have encompassed the continuing existence dealio...

My point was that having one goose who lays the golden egg is one thing; having a breeding program or an established colony is another.

@don mikulecky

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

Pricknick's picture

The word evolution has become tainted and has a lot of baggage attached.

That is only true for those who get their science from political and main stream media pundits.
I know many who understand evolution and learn to evolve with the changes. Yet, there are still those who believe with their hearts that the world is flat.
And please, explain to me how you can mention religion without involving elections when so much of the political apparatus (in this country) bases it's action on what religion or race is superior.
Hope your hiatus has been fruitful don. Nice to hear from you again.

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

don mikulecky's picture

@Pricknick The confusion is greatest among evolutionary biologists

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

Pluto's Republic's picture

This line you wrote was important to me:

So it has come to where we are and Trump fell into a place carved out by the believers and the mechanists.

I really don't care about Trump, since he is a symptom, so I do not dwell on him, per se. I do watch certain people and groups reacting to what he says and does. I am trying to look past symptoms like Trump, to see the disease.

Your statement about believers and mechanists resonates in that space for me. I misread you above, I believe. I thought you implied that men of science and men of religion came together at some point and agreed on "territory" they could rule over in human thinking. In the end, it does look like that to me. Philosophically contrived. (This might have resulted in wide-spread mental illness and suppressed critical thinking.)

I hope all goes well with you.

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Pluto's Republic's picture

I'm not sure how one can see anything, let alone anything man-made, any other way but as evolving (or extinct). As you use it strikes me as the only intellectual space that brings understanding to the process of social change. In the struggle between situational change and evolution, the term "adaptation" pops ups, but I am not sure where that fits in. Is it surrender, is it retreating, is it a work-around process, is it denial? There's something prosthetic and temporary about it. I do not use "adapt' interchangeably with evolution.

@Pluto's Republic

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k9disc's picture

mutation that is of great interest to me.

A tiny genetic change can have massive phenotypic expression. Like, completely changing the organism.

Instead of looking at it as the same entity with different attributes, it would make sense to go back and put some flesh on each of the fossils and ascribe a species/subspecies evolutionary hierarchy.

Does that make sense?

Like when did we go from Homo-Industrious to Homo-Economicus?

@Pluto's Republic

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

Pluto's Republic's picture

@k9disc

This, particularly:

....it would make sense to go back and put some flesh on each of the fossils and ascribe a species/subspecies evolutionary hierarchy.

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don mikulecky's picture

@Pluto's Republic adaptation is multilevel and multifaceted. There are plenty of examples where an adaptation to something in the short term cut out options for survival in the long term. The key is that evolution by its very nature reduces options

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

don mikulecky's picture

@Pluto's Republic it is always a joy when someone understands

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

Mutations are random. When a mutation is beneficial for the organism in it's environment the mutation sticks snd the organism "evolves". The better the organism has evolved to thrive in its environment the fewer mutations stick. This can go on for a long time - witness the dinosaurs. But the more "perfect" the organism the less it may be able to survive when its environment changes. The more an organism has adapted to an environment the more it is dependent on that environment, or at least a similar environment. This is why climate change is an extinction event.
But I'm not sure how this applies to human societies. They are too fluid, the environment is constantly changing. One might try to argue that in some cases we have failed to evolve - racism is the most obvious example. We have always had racism, though the object of that racism has constantly changed. Or has it? We have stopped hating eastern and southern europeans, but we have always hated africans and asians, and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
I would suggest that there are certain basic social tropes, and that those tropes are organic, for good or bad. Evolution is a random and geologically slow process, it should not be applied to societies, because the social environment changes too rapidly for evolution to work effectively. Better we learn how to live with those tropes, not wait to "evolve" or try to force an evolution.

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A PROUD Hillary hater since 1993

k9disc's picture

You are talking about flavor changes.

Stopping the "hate" would be a phenotypic change. Shifting the geographic origin of the hate not so much of a change.

Epigenetics in politics, seems quite a novel metaphor. There are many perspective changes within the metaphor that might be worth exploring. Like Epigenetics and the extinction of hate.

@doh1304

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

k9disc's picture

Neither is geology, BTW.

@doh1304

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“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~ Sun Tzu

Pluto's Republic's picture

@doh1304

Deliberate inner-directed evolution. The brain continues to physically evolve while we are alive. Certain developed qualities can be passed on genetically.

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don mikulecky's picture

@doh1304 evolution is a process that happens in complex self organizing systems. Mutations are but a small part of that. You are looking at trees to understand the nature of a forest.

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

@don mikulecky the value system that you and others seem to be trying to impose on evolution. Maybe I am missing your point.

Evolution just is. It just happens. It doesn't sit around wondering if racism is good or bad, and it won't follow a path based upon what we consider to be good or bad.

And if you want to connect the 'bad' election of Trump to 'bad' social evolution, maybe you might want to consider that the little people who voted for Trump believe they are fighting for their very survival, and they are fighting for their survival, given what the neolibs on both sides have done to the US worker.

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dfarrah

detroitmechworks's picture

If his policies were Identical, he'd be considered a Moderate.

I mean, he doesn't advocate shooting people at the border wall.

And he doesn't attack Refugee camps within Mexico, even though there is evidence they have provided material aid and comfort to the enemy.

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

lotlizard's picture

@detroitmechworks  
because the chaotic situation at the border justifies the establishment of a “Security Belt” on Mexican territory, don’tcha know.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_occupation_of_Southern_Lebanon

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Lookout's picture

...his study of ants led him to hypothesize that humans evolve as a group (tribe) rather than as individuals. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/edward-o-wilsons-new-take-...

My hypothesis is that our species has failed to mature into a cooperative society because our greed drives us in an endless cycle of hunger, acquisition, and reward ... for the individual rather than for the community as a whole. When we as individuals do serve the community, it is usually to unite against another community or cope with a natural disaster. Our obsession with short term gain spells probable extinction in the near term due to our inability to stop burning fossil fuels...not very different from the behavior of a meth or opioid addict.

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

gulfgal98's picture

@Lookout

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"I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~Dr. Cornel West

"There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare." Sun Tzu

mimi's picture

@Lookout
"humans evolve as a group (tribe) rather than as individuals" and those needs for survival are boycotted by the individual's greed. Tribalism vs rugged greedy freedom seeking individualism. Seems not let us evolve properly, but makes us do the same thing over and over again to not achieve the desired results. Running around in circles

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lotlizard's picture

@mimi  
and as a consequence, ends up taking a lot of guff from Western critics, as the West leans more toward an interpretation whereby even — or in the case of Ayn Rand libertarians, especially — the “greedy” exercise of individual freedom comes under the heading of basic human rights.

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don mikulecky's picture

@Lookout yes it seems to be the nature of our species….we have the capacity for cooperation but it is always overcome by greed in the end

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

Much like H.P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear," Trump is several steps down the devolution from human to "man-eating moles."

Of course, Trump would have no power without his minions mouth-breathing behind him. Though after his Helsinki disaster, he seems to have only Sean Hannity and his unrequited man-crush, Mike Pence in his corner. At least for a brief instant of sanity, as we look down and wonder where all those new appendages came from?

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Pluto's Republic's picture

@SancheLlewellyn

What was the nature of the disaster?

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don mikulecky's picture

@Pluto's Republic irrelevant

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don mikulecky's picture

@SancheLlewellyn you are still myopic about now. this goes back a long way

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

@don mikulecky Because yes, it goes back so far as third grade when I couldn't read road signs anymore. But yea, when they say "Take off your glasses and read the chart," I only see a wash of white . . . so I just say "E," because the top is always an E, right?

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don mikulecky's picture

@SancheLlewellyn evolution has only one direction as does time

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

@don mikulecky

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don mikulecky's picture

No, it is true among Evolutionary biologists especially.

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

There is no direction "up" or higher on the evolutionary scale. It's all about adaptation to changing habitats, or expansion into new habitats. It's about groups of individuals adapting, and moreover about sets of species evolving together to form stable sets of species. Evolution is very aggressive because it can re-use characteristics already embedded in DNA, and disadvantageous DNA changes usually results in no viable offspring. Characteristics within the gene pool can be arbitrary, and survive because they are net neutral in survivability, but perhaps useful in creating physical variability. Also in animals, sexual selection is very powerful and in some ways agnostic to survivability. It has been hypothesized that most of our "evolution" as a humanoid has been directed by sexual selection.

There is no doubt that the human species cannot survive in the long run unless it can entirely manage it's habitat to be stable -- it is far to disruptive to the set of species that inhabits the greater global habitat. It's not clear that human civilization survival is even possible.

For these reasons I'm not sure that using the term evolution for sociology is a good idea. I think in the social realm we look to change that has direction, as in higher and lower. I also think that if you look at past civilizations and evaluate them for success that our modern metrics of social evolution play no part in determining "success". As an example, the Native American could have lasted millennium in America -- they were successful from the adaptation perspective. The modern Western European was considered more socially evolved, that is, higher up on the evolutionary social scale, yet evaluated from pure evolutionary metrics the European social organization was a destructive, unstable mutation.

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Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

Pluto's Republic's picture

@The Wizard

...which can be achieved at any point along the curve of evolution. It puts a satisfying halt to out-of-control change. Allows a moment to just dwell. But it is undeniable that evolution defaults toward the complex over time after following many branches into cul-de-sacs of directionlessness existence.

I interpret this by recognizing that the universe has a definite purpose and direction that can be seen in the life that inhabits it. The push of evolution toward the increasing complexity of life's "sensory systems" suggests that the universe desires to see and know itself through life. The more complex the view, the better. I assume that evolution happens wherever life appears in the universe. Evolution ultimately leads to sentience, which thinks about the unknown. Where it goes from there can readily be imagined. This is the crux of the conflict between religion and science when they regard the same phenomenon.

I don't think the products of life escapes the trellis of evolution that life is built upon. Among sentients, that would be the evolution of the "systems" it creates, which evolve ever toward the complex. I suspect that sentients always outgrow their gardens of eden. I'm sure we all have an instinctive narrative about this, that hopefully accounts for the unfolding of reality as we know it.

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don mikulecky's picture

@The Wizard I like what you are trying for but language is difficult when you are in uncharted territory. You lapse into a reductionist trap when you separate different aspects of a large self organizing systems evolution. There is only one evolution ...that of the system as a whole...and that is why we understand so little.

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

@The Wizard In that Sebastian Junger book "Tribes" (yeah, I know) he mentions Benjamin Franklin and letters he wrote, saying that they were losing settlers to Native American tribes. Mainly the puzzlement of why English settlers rejected their heritage for these natives, while the opposite, natives wanting to join European settlement, and be like them, was almost non existent. Mainly the tribes allowed members to choose their work and were accepted as respected equals, and to join the Europeans would just lead to exploitation and disrespect.

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don mikulecky's picture

@Snode yes some among the exploiter group had minds that could reason

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An idea is not responsible for who happens to be carrying it at the time. It stands or it falls on its own merits.

Everything beyond running around naked and stuffing fruit into our mouth or grabbing carrion before it goes too bad is invention. Call a spear, computer or religion a machine. Maybe going from spear to m16 could be evolution, but it feels like a series of upgrades to me. Right now it seems it's going back to what it's always been, a 1% and a 99%, from kings and serfs to dictators and peasants. Economics, politics, physics, jokes, mathematics, the internet, god is all stuff we invented, and give meaning to. None of it may even be real. The more sophisticated the system, the more we're told that what we see isn't true. It's been weaponized for another invention, a slow moving war that we've all been losing.

I'm not trying to be a jerk (tho I have that talent) I just don't see evolution, I see an invented system that is widely accepted, and more and more being controlled by relatively (globally) few individuals or organizations and used against us.

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don mikulecky's picture

@Snode yes the system is too large and complex to be "seen" Sort of like the 10 blind men describing an elephant but far worse.

You are correct in spotting this as a way the power hungry can trick us into following their version.

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jobu's picture

Hello Don. Welcome back. You've posed a stem tingler with your essay.

One central thesis I follow is the broadest sense of evolution and I apply it to human social evolution.

Memes, as brought to my attention 30+ years ago when I first read Selfish Gene, play heavily in my (lack of) understanding Human Social Evolution.

Expanding on these observations and discoveries, Dawkins wondered, when observing behaviours among humans, whether any similar process could be at work to explain why some ideas, which on the face of it seem injurious to those who hold them, continue to persist and proliferate. Devoting oneself to one’s art, impoverishing oneself in the pursuit of Truth, or welcoming martyrdom for one’s cause do not, it seems, represent behaviours which are obviously beneficial to the individual of for the spread of that individual’s genes. So, given that this kind of behaviour clearly exists, and is widespread, what is reaping the benefit? Dawkins’ somewhat surprising answer was the ideas themselves. Ideas are clearly in competition with each other so perhaps there’s a selection process going on, analogous to natural selection, through which some ideas prove successful and spread whilst others die out. He concluded that there was such a selection process and, to emphasise the parallel to natural selection, he coined the term “meme” which come from an ancient Greek root, “mimeme”, meaning imitated thing. Dawkins has also, perhaps a touch mischievously, referred to memes as “mind viruses”, which has been met, predictably, with howls of indignation from some circles. The point he is trying to make is that memes, just like viruses, are indifferent to the welfare or otherwise of their hosts and the only thing that counts, from their perspective, is that they persist. What's in a meme?

I often recommend three chapters of three books:

Selfish Gene, Nice Guys Finish First
Guns Germs Steel, From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy
Democracy and Education, Chapt. 7, The Democratic Conception of Education

I re-read them to hold on to the 'meme' that human evolution is Progressive; in that we owe our existence to our hunter gatherer ancestors' reliance on Cooperation. Survival of the Cooperators, if you will.

However, it is getting increasingly hard to hold on to this notion as the meme of 'Free Market Individualism' has overtaken our Egalitarian instincts and may have already become Dawkin's Meme version of an ESS.

As always, best Regards and thank you for a great post.

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Is very bad to steal Jobu's Rum, is very bad...