Monday, May 4, 2015

The "Genes" of Culture In Civilizations

Van Gogh: "Ward of Arles Hospital"
I. Introduction

How is the evolution of culture different from the evolution of individuals?

We don't miss a beat or a step when the notion of individual people having genes is discussed.

But that is not so when it comes to the "genetic make-up" of a culture.

The reaction might be: "how could a society, culture, or civilization have genes?", but that can change when we realize that metaphor is used even in scientific conversations about genes, and is done so regularly:
"In describing the flawless regularity of developmental processes and the correlation between changes at certain genetic loci and changes in morphology, biologists frequently employ two metaphors: that genes 'control' development, and that genomes embody 'programs' for development. Although these metaphors have an admirable sharpness and punch, they lead, when taken literally, to highly distorted pictures of developmental processes. A more balanced, and useful, view of the role of genes in development is that they act as suppliers of the material needs of development and, in some instances, as context-dependent catalysts of cellular changes, rather than as 'controllers' of developmental progress and direction. The consequences of adopting this alternative view of development are discussed." (Metaphors and the Role of Genes, emphasis added)

"Language, thought and metaphor are inextricably mixed, so any discussion of what might be good or bad, desirable or undesirable, about particular metaphors must proceed carefully. In genetics, this leads into a real tangle. There are powerful and indispensable theory constitutive metaphors which have shaped the history of molecular biology. There are a further set, often used alongside the first, in efforts at elucidation, explanation, translation or appropriation of new theories, concepts or ideas. And there are the framing metaphors common in science journalism, which may appear in conjunction with any or all of the above." (The End of Genes?, emphasis added)
I am not talking about adding up the genes of all the individuals in a culture, in order to derive the genome of that culture.

I am talking more about group behavior (Comparing a Meme Complex to a Cultural Amygdala).

I am not talking exclusively about physical or metaphorical genetics (The Uncertain Gene, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11), because genes, RNA, and DNA are molecular machines that are not alive (The New Paradigm: The Physical Universe Is Mostly Machine).

But, I am talking about real psychological dynamics, within societies, that live on long after individuals in those societies die (Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

II. Group Delusion

That well-educated, professional-groups delude themselves is shocking, but when that education and professionalism is based on professional psychology (which focuses attention toward knowing the nature of delusion), we scratch our heads.

Especially when their self deceit or delusion goes all the way to the bone:
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.

The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
(American Psychological Association Ok With Torture, cf. Bush Psycho Team). The psychology of sophisticated groups which delude themselves, then perpetuate that delusion beyond the lives of any of the original members, also takes place in mystery.

III. The Evolution of Delusion

Some evolutionists have attempted to explain this phenomenon by using the language of genealogy, including metaphor, to construct an evolutionary hypothesis based "genetics of deceit."

A reviewer, parsing a book by evolutionist Trivers for example,  noticed that it may be a bridge too far to equate individual, physical, genetic dynamics to the metaphor: the genome of a culture:
Nobody likes to be told that they’ve been living a lie. However, this is at the heart of The Folly of Fools, Harvard biologist Robert Trivers’s recent polemical effort. In this fiercely, if not sloppily, argued book, Trivers presents his vision of human and animal self-deception from a multitude of sources that range from genomics to the stock market.
But for the same reason that the book has a near-flawless takeoff, it crashes in the end. The way that Trivers structures the text requires that he zero in on a concrete example within each chapter’s more general subject. For biological concepts, this strategy makes the reading highly accessible.

But it backfires when Trivers uses it to apply his theory of self-deception in the areas of war, religion, and false historical narratives. These subjects are too broad, and his links to self-deception too tenuous, to be compelling. By having such specificity, Trivers pigeonholes his arguments and greatly simplifies issues that are not as black-and-white as he claims.
(Review of Folly of Fools, book by R. Trivers; cf. same book different review). I would expect the same analysis of other books and papers, written by Trivers, concerning the evolution of deceit and self-deception (Deceit by Trivers, Deception, pdf, Is Trivers Deceiving Himself?, Trivers Wikipedia, Trivers von Hippel, Minds in Tumult).

IV. Examples of Actual Deception In Society

There was a court case which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a case which brazenly pointed out the depth and width of deceit in American Culture:
Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying. We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”); to make others feel better (“Gee you’ve gotten skinny”); to avoid recriminations (“I only lost $10 at poker”); to prevent grief (“The doc says you’re getting better”); to maintain domestic tranquility (“She’s just a friend”); to avoid social stigma (“I just haven’t met the right woman”); for career advancement (“I’m sooo lucky to have a smart boss like you”); to avoid being lonely (“I love opera”); to eliminate a rival (“He has a boyfriend”); to achieve an objective (“But I love you so much”); to defeat an objective (“I’m allergic to latex”); to make an exit (“It’s not you, it’s me”); to delay the inevitable (“The check is in the mail”); to communicate displeasure (“There’s nothing wrong”); to get someone off your back (“I’ll call you about lunch”); to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”); to namedrop (“We go way back”); to set up a surprise party (“I need help moving the piano”); to buy time (“I’m on my way”); to keep up appearances (“We’re not talking divorce”); to avoid taking out the trash (“My back hurts”); to duck an obligation (“I’ve got a headache”); to maintain a public image (“I go to church every Sunday”); to make a point (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); to save face (“I had too much to drink”); to humor (“Correct as usual, King Friday”); to avoid embarrassment (“That wasn’t me”); to curry favor (“I’ve read all your books”); to get a clerkship (“You’re the greatest living jurist”); to save a dollar (“I gave at the office”); or to maintain innocence (“There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop”).

And we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, as reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes, wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf and cross-dressing. Last year, Americans spent $40 billion on cosmetics — an industry devoted almost entirely to helping people deceive each other about their appearance. It doesn’t matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal and when to deceive. Of course, lies are often disbelieved or discovered, and that too is part of the pull and tug of social intercourse. But it’s critical to leave such interactions in private hands, so that we can make choices about who we are. How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option?
(It Takes A Culture To Raise A Compulsive Liar). The issue in this post is not whether deception exists in society, rather, the issue is: why.

V. Social Betterment Through Deceit and Deception?

The flavor Trivers seems to favor is that any and all evolution is good, because "bugs have been doing deception forever" (ibid).

"Besides, the bugs made our selfish genes you know."

Some of those from other disciplines take a different tact, the opposite in fact, to even go so far to say that deceit is a social evil when used by the powers that be:
"Noam Chomsky: One of the most important comments on deceit, I think, was made by Adam Smith. He pointed out that a major goal of business is to deceive and oppress the public.

And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public — and they're very conscious about it, the public relations industry. Interestingly, this developed in the freest countries—in Britain and the US — roughly around time of WWI, when it was recognized that enough freedom had been won that people could no longer be controlled by force. So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control
(The Deceit Business). This is in concert with our official deceivers, who also, but for different reasons than Trivers argues, think it is ok for "governments" to do it:
THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.
Edward L. Bernays

Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.

They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons — a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty [now 320] million — who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity. It will attempt at the same time to find the due place in the modern democratic scheme for this new propaganda and to suggest its gradually evolving code of ethics and practice.
(A Closer Look At MOMCOM's DNA - 4, quoting from Propaganda). It has been said of Bernays, that, if you do not know of this American, then you cannot understand American history (The Matriarch of the Matrix - 3).

VI. Why Deceit and Deception?

Regular readers know that I hypothesize that deceit and deception were introduced into the genetic stream of microbial life by catastrophes (see e.g. Are Microbes The Origin of PTSD?, What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?) and that they can be changed by conversation (Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen--2).
Catastrophe is prevalent

I am talking about microbial life and catastrophes which preceded us by millions and even billions of years (On The Origin of Propaganda, 2).

We find that catastrophe was quite prevalent in those epochs (e.g. The Five Mass Extinctions).

Beyond that, catastrophe damages some life, and makes other life extinct (see the graphic showing the Five Mass Extinctions, as well as all those scores of extinction events that were not in the mass-extinction category above the red line).

Catastrophe does not help life along, no matter the rationale (On the Origin of the Genes of Viruses - 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).

Even our human societies have long been plagued with suicide and murder, on the group scale and level, as pointed out by historian Toynbee:
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown." - [A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee]
(Are We Riding Out The Sixth Mass Extinction?). Another evolutionary thinker pulled no punches when he said that human intelligence is a lethal mutation (What Kind of Intelligence Is A Lethal Mutation?).

VII. Conclusion

Deceit and deception are not evolutionary advances, they are lethal mutations in the wrong direction.

Advanced, successful societies will shun deceit and deception (The Tenets of Ecocosmology).

Blue Genes

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