Morality and Status

This describes critical links between genetics, morality and the New Ecology.

Consider a few points. The first one is very interesting because of how similar to a math equation it it.

I mention repeatedly that we come from a tribal ecology where violence worked very well as a strategy, from threats to murder to warfare. It is a problem in the New Ecology, Civilization, because civilization is our life support system and it is likely to be damaged by violence. Also, civilization depends on a higher degree of cooperation to function than tribally based moralities can provide. Not surprisingly a number of moral strategies such as Christianity and Buddhism developed that rejected violence and promoted cooperation. This may have been more as a rejection of violence and to take advantage of the benefits of cooperation than as a strategy to support civilization. Or it may have been a product of amazing insight about the needs of civilization, but it was not a product of genetic strategy and technology.

Evolution is driven by natural selection. Natural selection can involve luck, but in terms of evolution, it is about competition between individuals of the same species and with all other factors such as predators and resources. Natural selection also keeps a species healthy by removing broken genes. In that case and some others, natural selection might not even be about competition, but especially for social animals including humans, competition with other members of the same species is a great part of natural selection. In terms of humans, the evidence is that a great deal of that "competition" was violent. Early humans would have had to distinguish between violence between members of the same tribe and members of other tribes. To much violence withing a tribe would have endangered the survival of entire tribe. A problem comes up that in humans, now that we can practice war, that competition can now do a great deal of damage to the infrastructure that everyone relies on for survival. That puts us all in danger from competition that includes violence.

To an Anthropologist, Status defines who you have reproductive access to. It is a mechanism that for males may increase the number of offspring they have and for females it may benefit their children and even reduce competition from other mothers. Still, it is basically about the fittest individuals of a reproductive group reproducing with the other most fit individuals of the group. Because of its effectiveness as a strategy, aggressive potential often, if not always conferred status in a tribal ecology. It is a way to get your way unless there is a way to stop it, which almost always is deterrence based on counter aggression. So status is more than competing for the best genes, it is a major part of the competition that drives evolution. Biologists would refer to an Anthropologist's social group as a reproductive group. To a biologist, status then is a major part of the competition within a reproductive group that drives natural selection.

In short, using artificial selection, something we must do to survive, will also reduce need for the competition, including status competition, that evolution needs to operate even enough to maintain a species, but is also the greatest danger to civilization. That changes everything about human survival strategy and can allow far greater cooperation. That is a genetic effect, but interestingly societies did develop ways to cut down on the violence common to tribes thousands of years ago, long before artificial selection could be considered. It shows how important that cooperation was and is to civilization. Now, using artificial selection, that competition called status between other members of the society could be cut down based on genetics. That offers even more potential for cooperation than the beliefs of religions promoting peace.

Looking at the story in these books in philosophical terms raises a very interesting situation. We look for truth and understanding to use as guidance for making decisions big and small. What this story tells is a bit counterintuitive and certainly different from what the simplest examination suggests. It is though in accordance with various more "advanced" moral beliefs. Just the concept of "turn the other cheek" or "love your enemy" sounds unlikely to be a good idea. It was only considered in ancient times because of how obviously bad the common strategy of violence was.

In the past, the most basic truths or what were believed to be truths were often called Natural Laws. Nature didn't seem to care about most of them though and history has revealed most to be incorrect. I figured that there had to be some Natural Law that would come from Mr. Darwin's work. The best-known derivation of his work is "survival of the fittest", but a biologist will tell you that that term actually translates to "survival of the survivors" which is a tautology and so meaningless. It isn't even accurate though as the more accurate statement would be "survival of the fit" because natural selection can only select against the unfit, not for the fit or fittest. (In a way, for mammals like humans, this is more true for females than males because there is less potential benefit from competition between females. Only in rare cases like elephant seals does reproduction become a matter of "winner take all" by the fittest and it involves a lot of luck at that point. Usually, most or a large percentage of the fit males get a chance to successfully reproduce, though sometimes humans have been very "winner take all".) So is there a Natural Law to be extracted from Mr. Darwin's work? I think so. It is that "the purpose of life is survival". That may not seem a lot better, but actually, it is. It gives moral direction. It provides a definite goal and so helps describe how to judge right from wrong. How to be fit is a bit nebulous, but survival is far more concrete. (For the people that want to quibble, that does mean survival in biological terms rather than individual terms.) It also says that for social species like humans with a lot of status behavior, competition is a survival with other members of your society is a primary strategy. that is basically what Sociobiology says.

Natural selection sometimes involves luck, but how it drives evolution is by competition.

So where does that take us? It takes us to "survival of the fittest". You're welcome. It becomes a bit more complicated than that though. This story is an examination of genetic and strategic adaptation. Offhand, I would have said that the strategic, the learned adaptation, was more important and it may be in terms of a survival strategy. The success of cooperative moral strategies is easy to see, but in moral or philosophical terms, the genetic part may be more determinant of how things turn out. You see, we are escaping from Mr. Darwin. The main point of the genetic discussion of this story is that we have no choice but to use artificial selection to survive. That changes something very basic and important to a lot of moral and philosophical premises derived from the natural need for competition to drive survival. That is OK too because without that change it would be difficult for civilization to work. Basically, it is that for the evolutionary system Mr. Darwin described to work, you need a very high level of competition, called status behavior. That could not allow the cooperation or preserve the investment needed for civilization. The necessary level of competition for evolution to occur or possibly even survival as a species would almost certainly be destructive enough to endanger the civilization - the ecology that is the life support system of everyone. Normal tribal level aggressive competition, wars with bombs or cyber weapons are just too destructive. So is the human tradition of murder. It is far easier to destroy than to create. The thing is that artificial selection is necessary to replace the natural selection that has been removed, but it also removes the need for a great deal of the competition necessary to the evolutionary process. Evolution, survival can occur now without a lot of violence or competition that is normally necessary. That genetic fact bubbles up to effect morality and philosophy and values and actions. Suddenly philosophies that seem counterintuitive make a lot more sense. Christian, Buddhist and other philosophies that espouse cooperation instead of competition are no longer in conflict with the need for competition that drives natural selection and the processes of life. This change describes why there is a change in strategy needed. It is less that we have gone from a hunter-gatherer tribal ecology to a technical civilization ecology. It is more that we have gone from an ecology who's function is driven by competition to an ecology where not only can much of the competition be replaced, but it must be. The morals and philosophies appropriate to that change are very different and are the foundation of the Strategy for the New Human Ecology. The fact that they were developed long before this genetic circumstance says how important to civilization and personally desirable those ancient beliefs are that have promoted cooperation and reduced violence. Without artificial selection, it's hard to see how they could have continued to exist long term before high levels of competition were necessary to maintain the genetic health of the species. I see that this is also is another path to saying that if we do not use artificial selection, we will accumulate broken genes to the point where we cannot maintain a civilization and will revert to where natural selection goes back to its old forms including disease, starvation, etc. The interesting part though is a change in our genetic strategy, artificial selection, will produce a change in our most basic survival strategy, competition.