Saturday, November 14, 2009

Polymath Block adds a new discipline: Sociobiology

In the same way that intelligent people compete for sexual success, without really being aware of the underlying self-organising system of evolution, Walter Block postulates that socialism may be hard-wired into the human brain because of the evolutionary success of explicit co-operation and implicit co-operation.

Listen in, from about 16 minutes onwards, to the following podcast, for his sociobiological explanation:

=> Libertarianism: Is it Conservatism’s Future? (MP3)

Essentially, a million years ago, there were two ways for a proto-human tribe to survive against the lions and the sabre-toothed tigers. One was explicit co-operation, where if I helped you, then next week you helped me. This 'Reciprocation' feature is hard-wired into humanity and is used by sales people today to sell you stuff you perhaps realise afterwards you didn't want (e.g. giving away small 'free' samples of shampoo - you then 'reciprocate' later by buying a full bottle of the new shampoo from these 'benefactors').

Those who didn't reciprocate, for instance if you looked after them when they were unwell and they then refused to look after you when you were unwell, were quickly shunned, isolated, and kicked out of the tribe.

This explicit co-operation, driven by the underlying evolutionary mechanism of gene survival, worked well enough for 50 to 100 related people, in the typical primitive pre-Neolithic tribe. This then is the behaviour, which lies at the root of socialism. It is why socialist society can survive at the primitive agragrian autarchic level of a village or a small valley, with a single overlord, who is probably also literally 'Head of the Family'. The emotion and the memory of reciprocation holds everything together, in the tribe, through thick and through thin.

But what does this primitive tribe do if it finds a rival tribe over the hill, carrying lots of juicy Wildebeest carcasses? It forms a hunting party and tries to wipe out the other tribe in order to retrieve the Wildebeests. These people are 'others' and therefore it is okay to kill them, so long as the tribal chief commands it.

But this kind of tribal aggressive behaviour, perhaps the root of national socialism, completely wipes out a far more powerful form of co-operation, that of implicit co-operation, i.e. the free market, another self-organising Hayekian system with remarkable similarities to evolution.

If instead of trying to wipe out the other tribe, we open trade negotiations with them instead (something which happened only in the last 100,000 years or so, when Cro-Magnon eventually grew intelligent enough to work this out), 'selling' what we had too much of (say, ivory tusks) for what the other tribe had too much of (say, Wildebeest carcasses), enabled us to become much wealthier over time, rather than by using the older techniques of brutal theft and murder.

Even better, would be to codify these 'trading' practices and these 'property rights', to help people do what felt unnatural, with the natural urge being to steal from and murder those in the other unrelated tribe, and to take their stuff. These codifications of 'unnatural' behaviour thus become the roots of the earliest religions, which has to keep being drummed in to hard-wired people, to stop them falling into 'evil' (i.e. property theft, envy, and murder). I don't think it's any coincidence that those with strong religious beliefs are often the most market-oriented in society, and those that are the most atheistic are often the most socialist.

But if these 'unnatural' rules are adhered to, the self-organising system of the market is formed, working to the same general principles as the self-organising system of evolution, with which it is closely related (as it were).

Those who most clearly used these 'moral' techniques of implicit co-operation and trade quickly became the dominant tribes, and thus quickly we reach the earliest cities, which start off as enhanced trading posts lying upon natural communication points abutting rivers and coasts.

Obviously, underlying all of this is the more primitive hard-wiring which still makes us want to hit people over the head to then try to steal from them, and this is what lies at the root of the first states, where 'strong' individuals take over these early cities through armed force, to live as gilded parasites on the backs of all the other traders. (We could argue here that they were merely providing security services, but we can leave that discussion for another day.)

Hence, we reach the stage of Kings, armies, Pharoahs, and other assorted bands of robbers writ large, as the hard-wiring keeps re-arising after oscillatory periods of intellectual liberty. Hence, the United States has an ideological epiphany with the writings of Englishman Thomas Paine, but then subsequently falls under the Pharaonic communist spell of Horus-God, Obama, who can right all evils with a single glance. Look, the US economy is recovering, my children, and I will create the jobs necessary to keep this recovery going, ...for Lo, I am the one true God, the blessed, the merciful, the deliverer of winds, and of all other sweet goodnesses - Weep ye children of America, for I have come among you...

And if you believe that nonsense, you'll believe the Moon is made of cream cheese.

So the sociobiological approach is a bit of a tale of woe, I'm afraid, but it does explain an awful lot, especially why only one in a hundred people is a believer in freedom rather than a believer in some form of socialism, which makes our fight against them all that more Sisyphusian, as we constantly face the uphill struggle of overcoming primitive hard-wired genetics.

However, if Thomas Paine could do it, with such spectacular results, then at least we ought to try.

Socialists are primitivists. They should have our pity. And if we can help some of them shake off their hard-wiring, then one day we could finally shake off their dreadful stone age instincts which keep giving us war, slavery, and poverty.

For much more on this kind of line, I must recommend Hayek's 'The Fatal Conceit'. It is doubtful if Professor Hayek wrote all of it, however, it is still worth reading for all that.

Pip pip!!

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