Sunday, March 12, 2006

Darwin, Hobbes and Synergy

This is what the last post was laying the groundwork for:

I'm reading Hobbes' "Leviathan," a philosophical treatise on the need for a State and why they evolved. If you aren't familiar with Hobbes, he's the one who said that the life of Man in his natural state was ,"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Probably not an optimist, I'm thinking.

His premise and argument is that without a society that has standards as well as the will and power to enforce those standards, the strong will take from the weak not only because they can but because it is logically in their best interest to do so. Since trusting on any level leaves you vulnerable to the one you trust, mistrust is the best survival strategy and in this condition, without a State, the natural way of man is a war of all against all.

You can see the logic in this, but it didn't happen (much). Darwin stepped in.

In any given population there will be immense variation in any given trait. One of those traits will be trust. True, in most cases in the Hobbes World, trust is a negative. But if two people with trust hook up and form a partnership, their power- both to gather stuff in this eternal war and to watch each other's back- is a tenfold advantage over the other players in this war.

It is such an advantage that it counts as a change in the environment: With one or two of these partner units operating, the only effective survival strategy is to form one yourself. The farther you extend the trust, the bigger and safer becomes your unit. Betrayal can crash the whole unit- what might have killed one long ago now can destroy an entire tribe or culture. Natural selection moves on- the truer the trust, the longer lived the unit. Someone said that cooperation is the only hope for mankind. On a tribal level it already has been.

Thought for the day: There are things that we can do that are so powerful that they count as changes in the environment.


Mac said...

This worries me, since the most basic trust that is the center of all civilization - the trust between men and women (skirting the gay issue for now), the trust that creates an evolutionary, selected family unit and a continuity of effort across generations - has broken down considerably. Having babies has become a means and not an end - partners are throwaway - it is just darn easier for women to get the babies they crave (and my opinion is that women are no longer selective - a baby, any baby will do) and not have to deal with relationship issues. This is perhaps the key issue, among a myriad of other issues, that are working to deselect humanity. (THE PRECEDING MESSAGE DOES NOT REFLECT THE OPINIONS OF THE BLOGGER AND IS NOT MEANT TO REPRESENT ANY PERSON LIVING OR DEAD. THE MESSAGE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY 'RELIGION' - THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES. Sorry, Rory - I haven't sparred in a while and I'm feeling a bit aggressive - what better place to express this than on the internet?

Rory said...

I think that there is another factor, too. 80 years ago, if a father abandoned his children he was ostracized and the baby might starve. As the governments safety net took care of more children, it blunted the initial effects of broken homes and allowed the longer term effects to accumulate.

Be aggressive, partner. And the mat is a funner place to express it.