Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Well Governed Sharks

"Your woraciousness, fellow-critters, I don't blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can't be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not'ing more dan de shark well goberned…”

"Well done, old Fleece!" cried Stubb, "that's Christianity..."

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

On February 16, 2009 in Stamford, Connecticut, a 14 year old chimpanzee named Travis attacked his owner’s neighbor, brutally mauling her. The attack was unprovoked. Travis had gotten out of his cage and his owner asked her neighbor, someone who Travis would have known and not feared, to help her get him back in the cage. The result was an enraged chimp, a disfigured neighbor and a traumatized police officer. Despite the fact that humans and chimps split off from one another six million years ago and that they look and appear to act remarkably like us, they are wild animals.

People have domesticated cats, dogs, pigs, cows, sheep, horses, wheat, barley, teosinte, beer and wine yeasts, bed bugs, body lice (the last two unintentionally) and probably countless other plants, animals, fungus, yeasts and bacteria simply by the expedient of choosing members of a given species which are favorable, flavorful, docile or dutiful, to humans and allowing them to thrive.

Chimps are not one of them.

When chimps hunt, they sometimes come upon a solitary chimp from a neighboring community. When this happens, the chimp gang murders the solitary chimp. There is no repercussion for this hostile behavior. There are no courts of appeal. No council of elders whose job it is to try offenders and execute the guilty. No remorse on the parts of the perpetrators or provocation on the part of the victim. No standers by wringing their hands and bewailing the disintegration of civilized chimp society. No cries of “Things were different in my day…” No candlelit vigils or monuments to cause passersby to pause and reflect upon the cruelty of Chimp vs. Chimp. There is no Devine retribution, no ‘barrenness of the land’ due to the polluting sin of Oedipus-Chimp. There are also no next of kin who will seek out the murderers and kill them for revenge and no Sharks vs. Jets rivalry underpinning this round of violence. It is simply an opportunistic murder. It is just an expression of the amorality of evolution. Eliminate some competition and there will be more for us. It’s not even a conscious act. It’s just the expression of fitness. Murder evolved because it works.

There are also no chimp messiahs to deliver sermons on the blessedness of chimp peacemakers and the efficacy of turning the other jowl. No chimp Fleece to preach governance of chimp sharks. No great spiritual traditions which teach ‘Love thy neighbor’ and ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ No appeals to chimp Karma or divine warnings that you reap what thou sew. The most aggressive chimps live to pass their genes on to the next generation and the anger marches on: Evolution's meat packing line.

But humans evolved to remember and speculate on things like right and wrong. We have something called a moral sense, also called the knowledge of good and evil or, at its simplest, a sense of fair play. This, at least, we do share with animals. Chimps can tell when they are getting the raw end of a deal and react with indignation. They just have not refined that from, “I'm being treated unfairly and should get redress.” to “That chimp over there is being treated unfairly. Maybe he deserves redress, as well.” We can empathize, for some strange reason. Why is that?

Animals can’t be evil any more than they can serve out justice. Justice requires evil. Not just the practice of evil. That’s everywhere. We need a definition of evil. Evil is the recognition of behaviors that have evolved over billions of years of time, from when the first single celled organism surrounded and digested the second single celled organism and thought that was really cool. Now we have awaked to the fact that that action can, under certain circumstances, be called murder.

So justice requires the recognition of an act as evil. Justice also requires empathy. Ergo, evil requires empathy. The chimp hunting party above did not commit murder. They killed. From the standpoint of evolution, the killers were more fit than the killed. After all, you have to be alive to pass on your genes.

An agent can't truly be evil if it is not aware of its action’s impact upon another creature. The worst it can be is opportunistically cruel. The concept of good and evil is an evolutionary construct that appeared in the brains of humans only. Along with the evolution of a mental vocabulary with concepts like fight or flight, recognition of friend or foe and the drives for survival and reproduction, more complex definitions like loyalty, fidelity, altruism among extended groups of people and the categorization of actions into classes of right or wrong evolved as well. These are as arbitrary as the gag reflex and evolved due to the same force: Random mutation. AKA, chance.

We have a moral sense because our ancestors had a moral sense. Where did they get that from? Flip a coin. But wherever they may have come from, they still got selected through the same process. This is called fitness. In other words, if it works, it stays. So evolution is ambiguous and, quite bluntly, a cruel joke. A random process produced brains that look for patterns in other random processes. Right vs. wrong. Good vs. evil. Noble vs. ignoble. Brave vs. coward. Nice concepts all, and we are all better people for believing in them. But ultimately they are meaningless constructions of the mind which is itself constructed from nothing.

Courts do try murderers and brothers avenge brothers. Sometimes brothers murder brothers, too. In this case society must decide how this is to be judged. In some other cases, society is the one doing the murdering. We just rationalize it with labels like ‘war’ or ‘capital punishment.’ For thousands of years, human societies have used violence when expedient for the good of the group and punished it when it has been detrimental. Wars are good, necessary and justified when our clan needs to take something that belongs to someone else and bad, unnecessary and evil when cooperation, peace and trade agreements are more beneficial. Kill or cooperate. Evolution does not have a preference. Whichever one works is fine. Whatever survives is selected. There are no preferred genes in evolution, only those left to express themselves.

This judicial tug of war over hundreds of thousands of years has had the net effect of pruning the most violent members from society. In other words, when an angry human kills another human for his own benefit, there is a chance that another human, who might not himself be that disposed to murder, will kill him. Either through revenge, or a tribunal of humans, governed by an arbitrary code of conduct, might execute capital punishment. Either way, the most violent are ostracized from society (like Cane) or executed (like countless others.) In the case of chimps, this disposal is random, but for humans there has been a conscious, though unintentional, bias. Over thousands of years, this sieve of justice has removed the most egregious offenders from society and insured that members in good standing fall somewhat below the high water mark of purely opportunistic aggression, yet still in the realm of useful aggression. The effect has been that, although modern civilized humans are just as violent as subsistence farmers, hunter gatherers, and, indeed, chimpanzees; the violence has been augmented by some form of social control. It has been somewhat ‘goberned.’

Taming the Chimp

What do we call it when we eliminate undesirable members and encourage those with certain characteristics to flourish? Domestication. When violent members kill others and are then themselves eliminated by some court system or vendetta, the effect, over millennia, is to slice away at the most violent. The top of the rage pyramid, as it were. Those who think human society is violent now and that violence defines society are mistaken. Violence is one factor in the shaping of society. Pruning is another. Sometimes the most violent members serve to prune themselves.

Civilization is the same as domestication. Melville’s ‘shark well governed’ is the same as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden or Enkidu’s education in the temples of Sumer. And they all end up the same. People are required to give up some of their (so called) baser instincts to embrace the benefits of society. Those who can’t do it are excluded. Those who possess the most docile characteristics are welcome. Just like sheep. The most calm, docile and easily managed are allowed to live, exploit the benefits of civilization and produce more members conducive to living in that society. Oh, sure. Barnyard males can be aggressive and belligerent, but only those remotely governable by humans are kept. And then only a few with the worst ones being tonight’s stew. The rest? Well, they can live their desperate lives, making more desperate masses. Evolution doesn’t care how you feel about anything. All that matters is numbers

Why do we call citizens who won’t speak up for themselves ‘sheeple?’ Why do we love conspiracy theories about TPTB or the Bilderberg group plotting against the masses? Why do we bemoan those quietly desperate masses? Why do we look for shadowy scapegoats lurking behind every atrocity? Why do we cheer on Luke in Cool Hand Luke and McMurphy in One Flew over the Cookoo’s Nest even though we know they will be crushed by the impersonal machine at the end? For that matter, why do we view our society as an impersonal machine in books like The Trial or 1984?

Would you really like to live with feral humans? Would you like to live in a world without ‘The man’ telling you what to do? Do you think we could live in a society where a walk in the next neighborhood could result in an unavenged, indeed unnoticed, murder? The fact is that we just can’t stand the idea that things happen randomly, so we make up clever fairytales and urban legends to fill in the void of chaos with artificial meaning. JFK was killed by one bullet fired from the guns of a waiting army of scheming villains and the price of oil is set each year by the Trilateral Commission as dictated by Reptilian impersonators running the world’s governments. Everything is a plot against the sheeple. These sheeple, by the way, are everybody except my gnostically inspired group.

Every social, religious and political system ever designed is there to keep the civilized, civilized, just like locks are there to keep honest people honest. Governments, and by extension social and religion systems that anthropologists love to study, are arms of the auto-domestication machine. They are all made up but we can’t live without them. Every morality tale, every origin myth, every Aesop fable or campfire villain, every story of every dying god or preaching savior, indeed, all of our legal, moral and ethical codes, are just made up stories which serve to define our lives and padlock our pens. As Winston Churchill said, “People get the government they deserve.” Well, we have gotten the civilization we deserve, too.

We have been, and are, unconsciously directing our own evolution. That self-domestication machine is itself human society. There is no separating the two. We have seen the enemy and it is us. We know how animal husbandry works. Well, human husbandry works the same way. Domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild feed stock. This is due to the fact that human provenance has relieved them of the task of survival, so they don’t need to do it for themselves. Individuals who would never have survived in the wild flourish in the pen. As we select for acceptable behavior, we are also selecting for reduced brain power. Domesticated animals slowly succumb to group amnesia, forgetting the wild sharks they once were. Dogs may dream of being wolves, but if they do, those dreams are forgotten when they wake and smell the food bowl.

Thoroughly domesticated animals can no longer survive on their own. Well, the human brain has been shrinking for the past 100 thousand years, as well. And for the same reason. We now rely on our social organ to supply our needs. Taking that away would be as bad as removing any other major organ. Indeed, it is a major organ: The Superior Civility-gland. It is the only organ in the body composed entirely of all of the other cells in the body, yet totally separate from all of them.

It’s all around us. We rely on it every day. We can’t live without it. And we hate it.

So we have evolved to be conducive to civilizing. That simply means that those who, due to random mutations in genes, were docile and agreeable to building social networks did better in our evolutionary past than those who were more closed and clan like. They, by virtue of their cunning and planning, passed on their genes to a larger and larger descendent domesticated population. It has been suggested that the Neanderthals were unable to function in groups greater than around 25 individuals: The extended family. They could form family groups but not societies. Beyond that number they were unable to sort out who you could trust and have safe interactions with and who you couldn’t. Our ancestors, to the contrary, were able to function with, conduct interactions with, and generally tolerate up to 300 or so individuals: A village.

Our ancestors’ brains had evolved the internal tracking system necessary to index and negotiate a greater number of people, and therefore they could determine who they could trust and how to insure adequate interactions in the future. They were genetically better able to function in groups that were, by their size, better able to support division of labor and large scale cooperative projects, and with it agriculture, architecture, mathematics, philosophy, religion and, of course, politics.

Politics is, after all, the delicate art of keeping societies functioning just shy of murder.

Neanderthals couldn’t do that. They couldn’t learn the rules of playing nice with others and suppressing the natural urge to slap someone who annoys you. There were no tribal councils of Neanderthals.

It’s All about Opposites

This suggests that there are two poles to human social behavior: Those who genetically resist domestication and those who genetically embrace it. Sharks and angels. But there is a third, far more vast, segment of the population: Those who possess genes of aggression and hostility but who can also be manipulated. Governable genes, in other words.

Think of a thermostat on a wall. Now imagine that there are two people trying to adjust it. Let’s call them Hot and Cold. Mr. Hot thinks the room is too warm and wants it cooler. Ms. Cold thinks the room is too cool and wants it warmer. These two struggle against each other. Sometimes Ms. Cold manages to turn it up a little bit, but sometimes Mr. Hot manages to turn it down. Assume that the result is a house that is livable. Well, it has to be livable. If one of them were to win out they would both die of heat or cold. They need each other to survive. Not only that, but they need each other to be their own opposites. Do you think this analogy unlikely? Well, there is just such a process going on in our bones every day. Some organelles dissolve calcium and release it into the blood. Others take calcium and fashion it into new bone. Both of these processes, dismantling and constructing, are going on simultaneously and constantly. The result is healthy bone. I think you can imagine what would happen were one process to stop. You'd become a statue or a jellyfish. We are not so much tuned to operate a certain preprogrammed way. Instead, we and our interactions with the outside world are the results of many conflicting forces. We live in the nexus of these forces.

Anthropologists talk about something called ‘The free rider problem.’ Societies can tolerate a certain number of members who take more than they give. The common pot is there for everybody to contribute to and take from. Some take more than they give. Some give more than the take. As long as the two forces are balanced the system survives. It would be nice to eliminate those who take more than they give, but you can’t. Why not?

Say, for example, that a village of 200 people has 20 free riders. That is ten percent. These can be outright freeloaders and beggars or just people who put in what they must while clandestinely extracting more than their share. The brother-in-law on the couch, or the welfare abuser, for instance. Let us say that a society decides to crack down of its free riders. If you try to compel them to work or refuse to tolerate their lack of industry, the end result is that everybody is suspect. Everyone is a potential drain on society. After all, who decides who is contributing and who is not? Where do you draw the line? A society that is too intolerant can’t trust anybody, including the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. It becomes impossible to have any transactions with anybody outside your immediate family if you don’t trust anybody. The greater sphere of the village collapses and we are back like the Neanderthals. The fact that our ancestors evolved to live in villages is precisely due to the fact that they could tolerate a certain amount of exploitation, with the expectation that the returns would be greater than the expenses, on average. I call this the Annoyance of the Commons. Everyone works together towards a common good except for those few who we all know don’t but we can’t get rid of anyway. Whatcha gonna do?

On the other hand, a society that is overly tolerant or simply overrun with free riders risks collapsing from a lack of discipline. We have to exist in a vapor lock between Polyanna naiveté and lock down belligerence. If everyone starts thinking they deserve a free lunch then the lunch wagon will deplete. Those who still believe the morality tales about ants and grasshoppers will start getting furious with the burgeoning grasshopper population around them, real or imagined, and eventually lose faith and trust in their village. Just like above, cooperation will be replaced with suspicion and the delicate balance of trust and tolerance will falter. Once again, the Commons becomes tragic. Once in a while an Apostle Paul or Rush Limbaugh may stand up and say ‘He who doesn’t work doesn’t eat.’ Yet for every one of those there is an equally annoying voice saying ‘Sell all you have and give it to the pour.’ We can call these two forces: Mr. Justice and Ms. Mercy. Just like Mr. Hot and Ms. Cold, they perpetually struggle with each other. Same balance of opposites. Same consequences should one prevail over the other.

Society evolved out of social hooks mutated into our psyche to manipulate us. Some of us may hate being controlled by society but we would hate being on our own, too. We admire the rebel and want to be like him or her; but we want the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to act reliably, provide for our needs and not put their thumbs on the scale, too. Of course we can’t have it both way, but we wish we could. In some perverse way, we think we should, as well. Or even worse, we think that we should be allowed to be the rebel while expecting everyone else to behave. Even super villains have to shop at the market.

Mark Train once said that man is the only animal who blushes, or needs to. I would add to that that man is the only animal who can’t control his socially ingrained conflicts, though I’m sure he would have said it better. Chimps can lash out violently and then go back to the community for a nap. But they can’t build cities and invent technology. That takes self-governance. That takes self-control or, if not self-control, at least control by someone or something. And in order for that to happen, there have to be people who are controllable.

That takes civilizing. We are conflicted, malleable and resentful. We know the beast within rages and we can’t control it. But we are the beast within. We can be used and we know it. We are used by society and we use it, as well. We exploit and we are exploitable. That, too, is Melville’s Christianity.

But what makes a community of people different than a community of chimpanzees? Or a hive of ants, for that matter? Why are we in this contradictory, even neurotic, human condition? We are being pulled in two directions, metaphorically expressed by good and bad angels on our shoulders or a struggle between the spiritual man and the carnal man. Pity poor Apostle Paul, who wailed “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Paul was our own bi-polar saint. Emotions implanted in his genes pulled him one way, but equally powerful and conflicting emotions also implanted in those same genes pulled him in the exact opposite direction, inching that social thermostat up and down within a band of societal acceptability. If either side were to slip the results would be disastrous. If he had been a chimp there would have been no such quandary. The commands would have bubbled up from his brain stem unchecked, unedited and immediately obeyed.

From Many, One

One of the biggest questions pondered by philosopher kind over the millennia has centered on this issue. How do people live together in groups? How do you put up with that noisy neighbor or annoying baker that you hate but have to buy his bread, anyway? We have to put up with our relatives, after all, “Blood is thicker than water.” They are the jerks we can’t just walk away from. Our genes were already encoded to accept our immediate relations so we grudgingly accept their quirks, just like our Neanderthal cousins. But what about those further way on the family tree? Why put up with those idiots?

As long ago as the story of the scattering at the Tower of Babel or the domestication of Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh this issue has been pondered. What makes people live together in harmony? Or, and here is where a lot of the neurosis comes from, if we don’t always live in harmony, at least we are compelled to live in tolerance of each other. Social rules tell us how to put up with our neighbor. Our genes make us grudgingly capable of accepting those social rules. ‘Put up with thy neighbor’ does not make for as good a sound bite, though. In other words, as far as our social upbringing is concerned, we don’t have to like it. We just have to do it. Capiche?

There is certainly an advantage to living in villages and getting along with your neighbor, even if it is in a Prisoners’ Dilemma, Mexican Standoff kind of way. Division of labor, separation of responsibilities into castes that need each other, submission to a ruling intellectual/priestly class and the creation of a support network for the needy are all valuable things which are worth the sacrifice in personal liberty and ‘wildness.’ They are even worth the oppressing ruling class, if by ‘worth’ we mean ‘statistically superior.’ Evolution doesn’t care what the genes are feeling, only that they are reproducing.

But ‘It’s a nice thing to have and worth the effort’ is not an explanation of where it came from in the first place or why it was selected out of the other random behaviors. In the world of philosophy, that would be what’s called a teleological explanation for the observed facts. Teleological, in the context of evolution, means that a trait evolved ‘in order to’ accomplish some useful task. Priests evolved ‘in order to’ compel the masses to obey. Kings evolved ‘in order to’ enforce order on an unruly population. That’s putting the cart before the horse. There is no ‘in order to’ in evolution. Evolution doesn’t work that way. Things happen randomly. Thus, if a randomly created trait (mutation) just happens to do something useful, or if it allows the possessor of that trait to live longer or experience more opportunities to breed (fitness), then that trait will be passed on to the next generation (selection.)

There! Evolution in a grain of sand. Eternity in an internet post.

Darwin, Have at It

So the first principle of the Theory of Evolution is that everything is here by chance. It’s called ‘Random Mutation’ but the meaning is the same. Chance, accident, the rolling of the dice, random interactions of phosphates, acids and sugars in a strand of DNA, that’s the only driver. Nothing happens ‘in order to’ do anything else. There is no architect guiding evolution. No God of evolution, male or female. No preferred path.

No gene, and therefore no allele, is more or less likely to exist than any and every other. As a matter of fact, every gene is equally improbable. Every gene is equally unlikely. Everything that exists has an equally slim chance of existing. There are about one hundred thousand amino acids in a human gene, give or take. The chance of any single gene coming into existence is one in four to the one hundred thousand power. This is true of every gene. It’s true for genes to make your eyes blue and it’s true for genes to make you think twice about killing the guy snoring in the next cave. Yes, there is more to it than that and genes work together making the odds even greater, but the point is still valid. Every gene or gene combination is equally improbable. There are no preferred genes, only selected genes out of those that already mutated randomly.

The only difference between, say, a gene for making us want to eat something that is nutritional and one to make us want to eat sand is that the sand eating gene will be unable to keep it’s possessor alive and ‘fit.’ The sand eaters will die and there will be no more sand eating people. (Unless, of course, eating sand is beneficial to that organism; an anaerobic bacterium, for instance.) But both genes are equally unlikely to exist at all. Any behavior, or gene, can evolve. It may look bizarre to us and may die out in a few generations, but its existence is not premised on profitability or history. It is premised on chance. And its usefulness can’t be assessed until it comes into existence. So useful genes and useless genes must evolve equally. Indeed, there are many more useless genes than useful genes, so there should be many more of them produced. The useful ones just manage to persist due to fitness and selection. A trillion copies of a useful gene are no more likely than one useless gene. The useful gene just managed to stick around long enough to be copied endlessly.

Further, more genes come into existence all the time. Evolution has not stopped. Traits evolve, genes pop into existence and are evaluated by the editor of fitness constantly. And not just new genes. Every existing gene, no matter how old, how successful or how many times it’s been copied, is exposed to the same editor each time it is expressed. Nothing is certain, nothing is predestined and nothing is guaranteed.

The Gene Machine

People talk about environmental ‘pressures’ shaping organisms along evolutionary paths. This is one of the unfortunate misrepresentations in evolution. It implies that the environment influences evolution to produce creatures with favorable traits. Nothing could be further from the truth any more than one random number in a random number generator is more or less likely to occur based on which numbers came before or after it. In the same way slot machines are never ‘due.’ Each pull has the same odds: Overwhelmingly against the puller.

Consider the following thought experiment to make this process more clear.

Imagine a geodesic dome. Inside the dome is a device in the dead center that resembles the projector in a planetarium. But instead of projecting images of stars, it projects projectiles. Tennis balls, as a matter of fact. And instead of running according to a preset program for the evening’s show, the tennis ball projector is on a yoke that swings around in three dimensions randomly. All we can say with certainty is that every spot on the ceiling has an equal chance of being hit by a tennis ball. Over a long enough period of time every point on the ceiling will have been hit an equal number of times. Now, further imagine that there are shutters in the surface of the dome. These can be opened and closed at any time, also randomly.

An outsider observing this might be tempted to think that there is a one to one correlation between open shutters and a steady stream of tennis balls. The balls seem to radiate outward from the dome in beams or streams. And if one shutter closes and another opens, another stream will immediately appear to come out of that door. For all the world, the dome behaves like shutters on a lamp, shining light equally powerfully in any direction simply with the switching of a shutter.

The open shutters represent environmental niches and the tennis balls represent genes.

This is how evolution works. There is no evolutionary pressure. There is only random heaving of amino acids and the persistence of those that are successful. To you or I this may seem inefficient since so many of the balls just bounce off the wall and fall back into the dome, but it really is quite so. If less than one hundreth of one percent of the tennis balls actually make it out of the dome and do something useful, it doesn’t matter. The other 99.99% that fail are recycled by that 0.01%. Nature eats the failures.

Behind Every Great Mutation

So what do tennis balls have to do with human civilization? And what do they have to do with Christianity, for that matter? How did our well governed sharks evolve? By chance, of course, but exactly what path did they follow? We can see how our ancestors domesticated certain species by simply selecting the most desirable members and using their seeds, kids, pups, eggs, spores or whatever for the next year’s batch, but who domesticated us? Who selected for humans that could form complicated alliances based on division of labor and acquiescence to authority, willingly or otherwise? Who created castes that work together instead of small family units that are tightly bound and violent to outsiders? How turned us noble, free men into sheeple? Unless you are one of those people who believe that aliens did it, there must be a natural explanation.

It has been suggested that this separation of function began when women started sharing child raising chores. It just so happened, at some point in our past, that female humans found the babies of their sisters and cousins and daughters as attractive as their own. They then began sharing nursing and pre and post natal care between those currently pregnant or with babies and those who were not taking care of their own needs. This added vital support allowed for the evolution of infants that required a lot more care before they were autonomous. Babies exploited this additional care. In other words, babies that could grow larger brains ‘fit’ the environment of additional nursery care. This, in turn, allowed for the evolution of larger brains and longer time to develop things like social skills and communication skills that would be handy to the next generation of caretakers in their tasks of taking care of even more complex and dependent babies. A kind of Jevon’s Paradox in evolution. This makes a lot of sense (but happened by chance, none the less) and suggests that civilization is a female creation. I can think of how this may have happened.

A long time ago, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors lived pretty much like the rest of the great apes. I would suggest that our ancestors were more like the Bonobo than our common angry chimp friend up above, for reasons I will discuss shortly. This suggests that sex was common and unrestricted with female leadership of the community. So as human young came of age, they began mating with any and all members of the community. The females got pregnant, had their babies and those babies grew up to have the same sexual drives as their mothers and fathers. Evolution marched on apace.

Some of the females would be more hardy and more fertile than the rest. A select few would live into their twenties and thirties and still be able to reproduce and have more offspring. Evolution should dictate that those more robust females have as many offspring as possible and that those offspring gradually expand to fill the population until all its members were hardy and long lived like their few, long living and long breeding matriarchal ancestors of old. Given several generations the bulk of the population would be descended from those hardier, more prolific matriarchs. That ‘should’ have happened. However, evolution is not driven by ‘should’ or what we human beings think is best. Evolution is driven by chance only.

So what did happen? Let me take a guess. Bear with me.

As the older females aged, a whole new population of 12 and 13 year olds would be coming of age. These younger females would have the sex drives of their mothers and would be in competition with the older females for access to males. The males were more likely to be attracted to the younger, seemingly healthier females, since the older females were relatively rare. Evolution would not have had time to instill into the sex genes of a male that an older female equals healthier genes. (If you think that males ‘automatically’ seek out young females, remember that there is no ‘automatic’ in evolution. Evolution is driven by chance and every gene, therefore every trait and drive, is equally improbable. Males evolved to favor young females because that’s what was mostly available and healthy. Clearly we see this prejudice today. The site of an older man with a younger woman does not surprise people as much as the opposite. There is even a derogatory term for the older woman. Cougar. More on that later.)

So females were competing with females for access to the genes carried by the numerous males. (By ‘numerous’ here I mean that there are more than are required. Nature may produce as many males as females, but most of them are superfluous. Some species only produce males when they are required. Ants and bees, for instance, only create males so that the aging queen can donate some of her genetic material to another, young queen from a different colony. Males originally were simply delivery devices; genetic material bundled up with a wind up motor attached and enough instructions to find another female and deliver the cargo of his mother’s genes. This is the origin of a male. Prior to that, single celled organisms simply swapped (and still swap) genes when they encountered each other like some kind of Internet file sharing system. This is a proto-sex. As organisms grew in complexity, this ability to swap genetic material needed some other mediator. Bundling up some genetic material and conveying it to a sister organism was the perfect solution. And so the male creature is simply a female form modified for a different task. The first delivery boy.)

It is essential to see this as a competition between females in order to understand what happened next. At some point evolution produced what might be called the nanny gene. Females volunteered to assist other females in taking care of their young. They provided nursing services, care of the sick mother and child and nursery care as the children got older. But this apparent altruistic service required a payback to make it worthwhile. If evolution is about exploitation of environments, then what were the altruistic genes exploiting? If genes for altruism increased one’s fitness, then what exactly did they fit? They ‘fit’ the evolving society. In other words, people exploit the greater social structure that they, themselves, are a part of. Altruism is the very thing that was being exploited. If groups of people form social orders, then those people both create the order and take advantage of it. There is no need to make any appeal to group selection.

An Aside about Villages

Let me digress for a moment. Think of the old rhyme: The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker… Or consider the play Fiddler on the Roof. These are perfect pictures of the quaint village that has existed for millennia. If we look at human history as the evolution of the village, then human history has been remarkably stable. We, on the other hand, tend to view only large scale events like wars, huge civilizations, epic tales of famines, floods and plagues; great leaders and critical dates. But that’s not humanity. Humanity is small groups of people living small lives one day at a time: The village. In a village, each member plays a role. People interact, intermarry, do business together, play together, trust and mistrust each other; all according to invisible rules that are reinforced by the local gods and superstitions. The village can be said to ‘hum’ at a certain frequency. That frequency is composed of all of the interaction between all of the people. Well running villages are invisible and certainly never celebrated in history, except as a back drop to something grand and exciting. Villages are boring, as they should be.

Now, let’s suppose that some of the humming gets overloaded. Let’s say that people become less trusting of each other. Then it becomes harder to deal with those upon which you rely for your existence. If you can’t trust the milk man, or if your word is not trustworthy to others, then you can’t conduct your daily business and village life breaks down. If, on the other hand, people become too trusting, then you leave yourself open to exploitation. Both courses lead to the breakdown of the socio-economic system. The hum of the village must remain within a certain band. Villages are fine-tuned just like Mr. Hot and Ms. Cold.

What’s this got to do with anything? Well, altruism, which is the frequency of the village, must operate at a certain level. Have you even heard the expression: “The good news is…. but the bad news is…” where both the good news and the bad news are the same thing? Well, the good news is that people have to have a certain level of trust in each other in order to create a functioning society, but the bad news is that people have to be gullible enough to let themselves be taken advantage of once in a while. If that balance strays too far in either direction the system collapses. Even seventeenth century pirates had a code of conduct amongst themselves. It wasn’t all Hedonism and murder.

So in order for altruism to evolve as a trait people must do two things that are mutually exclusive. One, be trusting and cooperative enough to constitute the village and two, exploit the village thereby created. If someone were to plan such a thing it would be impossible. Thankfully, random events produce impossible things. I would suggest that it is only through chance that such a thing could evolve.

Now, Back to the Proto-Village

So, by some random process the women of the burgeoning community-cum-village were sharing child caring duties. In return for services from the female hierarchy, those receiving the services were asked to abide by a few rules. First and foremost, you could only have sex with an approved mate. Girls had to wait until a certain age to have sex, and then they must be paired with that person for a period of time, perhaps for life. This arrangement insured that as females aged, they would continue to have access to a mate as well as social services from the developing community-The Greater Village. If older females were in competition with younger females, then the older females would fight back using whatever tools were at their disposal.

And what tools were those? The older females had a devastatingly effective weapon in the war of adult woman against girl. Being the caretakers of the community did the trick. By limiting the sexual availability of their competition, it insured that the older females were not snubbed. They had a mate to supply sperm and provide for them and their greater number of healthier children. There’s the payoff for adhering to a sexually based morality. Give up some fun now and you will be rewarded later. Those who were sophisticated enough to appreciate the bargain would, in the long run, have more offspring who survived than those who did simply what their sex genes commanded. More children equals selection.

If evolution is about exploitation, then there was plenty going on. Older women were exploiting younger by providing them a carrot and requiring their submission in return. Younger women were exploiting the older by accepting their added support. Both were exploiting men by ensuring that they were available for impregnating and providing care for a longer period of time. Men were exploiting the same system by having their offspring live longer and healthier. Infants were exploiting the whole system by extracting more energy for a longer period of time, allowing them to grow larger and with more sophisticated brains. Everywhere you look was evolution at its finest.

The female hierarchy was in a position to dictate rules like this because of the sharing of child rearing responsibilities. Instead of mothers caring for their individual children, there were nurseries composed of all of the females of the tribe caring for all of the children. This had the added effect of allowing children to be more dependent on their caregivers for a longer period of time, since the mother had some freedom of movement during the extended period of total dependence we see in humans. No other species requires so much care for their young for such a long period of time after birth. In order to do this, greater involvement was required, both from the parents and from society in general. I don’t think it would have been possible for the human brain to grow so big without the far greater caregiving system afforded by a community. The greater womb, as it was. And, of course, the matriarchy had a great deal of influence on how that next generation thought.

They were the hands that rock the cradle. They could make up pleasant stories and morality tales. They could tell their children that women are holy and virgin girls are pure. Menstrual blood is considered sacred and taboo in many non-western societies. We tend to think that taboo means something bad, but it doesn’t. Taboo means holy, not cursed. The gods came down to earth and invested you girls with the fertility of the universe. You are the embodiment of the Mother Goddess. And here is how you are going to use it….

This religious propaganda has been fed to children for millennia in order to control them. Or, more specifically, to control girls. These are among the techniques used to control society. These are some of the techniques for auto-domestication. Society is about women controlling other women.

At this point some might say that men control women. I would suggest that this is flatly not true. In most other species males have to vie with each other to get the attention of a female. They build elaborate nests, put on displays, and evolve plumes and intricate dances and songs. All so that the all too many males can attract one of the precious females. So what’s different in humans? Nothing. However, in the process of females controlling other females and having males assigned to them, sexual dynamics evolved differently. Evolution is cunning. Actually, evolution is blunt and stupid, yet cunning things evolve.


Part of the controls exerted on young females is what is called limits to mobility. Girls are kept tightly controlled. Their virginity is repackaged as something magical and, therefore, not for retail use. For that matter, why elevate female virginity to begin with? What’s so special about it? Nothing, except as a form of control. Men certainly don’t care, except where they have been programmed to care. Men are a tool used by women to control other women.

Female circumcision, where it is practiced, is not imposed on girls by the men of the village. It is imposed by the grandmothers and matriarchs in the name of purity. Virginal girls are ‘pure’ and must be strictly controlled, wear white and display their chastity. Pure is another word for controlled. Every society has some form of female control of other females, from the most extreme foot binding and FGM to corsets, makeup and high heels, which is mostly symbolic.

I mentioned women being called ‘cougars’ as a derogatory term above. There are lots of derogatory terms for women who are promiscuous and don’t follow the female body politic. Slut, tart, skank, whore. These are some of the tamer words. And these are not the men calling women that. These are from women denigrating other women. The Madonna has some pretty catty language for the Whore. Males naturally filled in the gap and pretended that it was their authority at work. They built their own mythology of control. None the less, it was never males controlling females. Females control females and males capitalized upon that dynamic. Females surrendered to males in the interest of controlling each other. Just look at the language of the battle of the sexes. The way men and women talk to each, lie to each other, assume certain roles with each other, and use common tactics in an effort to manipulate each other. It’s a game in which women are the more clever combatants.

Societal terms of acceptance and rejection are powerful forces at governing sharks. After all, once you lose your independence, you are hooked. Very few people can just walk away from civilization. We’re here. We are not just living in it. We are it. We are in a devil’s bargain with a social machine, a bargain that we did not even negotiate. It was ingrained into our genes before birth. Society owns us. Rationalize it all you want. At the end of the day, we are all Villagers. We’re all well governed sharks.

Costs and Benefits

But in order for evolution to produce a system like this, all parties must statistically benefit (as defined by evolution, benefit merely means you get to pass your genes on to the next generation. ‘Benefit’ is used here purely mathematically. By statistically I mean that a high percentage must benefit-higher than otherwise. It can be argued that celibate members of society don’t benefit according to the rules of evolution. Fair enough, but those members are consequences of the wider dynamics. Outliers and unintended consequences. Odd spots on the thermostat. Random events are often ‘fuzzy.’)

The fitness of enough members must increase. Otherwise, a system like this, though it could come into existence due to random mutations, just like any other tennis ball impacting the ceiling or like that sand eating gene, would not be selected. Selection requires that these traits, no matter how bizarre, provide greater benefit to those possessing them than to those who do not. Each side loses something in order to gain something of greater value. This is true of the females, as well as their gene delivery mechanisms, males. What is that?

To the young girls, they have to give up access to numerous males. They can only be pregnant once at a time, so a lot of sex does not increase the number of their offspring anyway. A lot of sex doesn’t increase their ability to have offspring at all, for that matter. All it does in increase they ability to attract males, only one of which will impregnate them at a time. Males, on the other hand, would evolve to take any opportunity to deliver their cargo to any female that is available. Male promiscuity makes more sense than female promiscuity. Males are the fire hoses that are always on full. Females are the valves that open them as needed.

So, the girls are asked to give up, or at least suspend (or hide), egregious promiscuity. In return, they get the support of the Church ladies in their village and a guaranteed provider of sperm, food and protection in their old age. The girls who are willing (read: Genetically predisposed) to accept this kind of control and who believe the propaganda of their grandmothers will have more children which remain healthy and grow up to have children of their own. Some day they can become the match makers and midwives of the village and exert their control on the next generation.

And this is key.

Having a lot of children is not going to lead to selection of your genes if most of them die before having offspring of their own. Having children, who themselves grow up to have children, will. Lobsters lay one thousand eggs at a time. Only two or three of them survive to maturity. This is true of the males, as well. Having a great deal of offspring is of no use if they are a great deal of dead offspring. Fewer healthy offspring are more valuable than many that don’t survive.

So what’s the alternative? Let us suppose that some of those girls rebel. This system certainly did not drop into everyone’s genes overnight and it doesn’t fully control us even today. Like I said, evolution is ‘fuzzy.’ It evolved randomly and, like every other trait, had to demonstrate its fitness and diffuse through the population over many generations. Perhaps it still is, as Melville, St. Paul and the propagandists of Sumer note. People are neurotic for this very reason.

So some of the girls would be resistant to having their sex lives handed to them by a bunch of old ladies. What recourse does the developing female control system have? Well, they can deny any rogue girls access to their resources. “You want to play, then play. Just don’t come to us when you are old and nobody wants you around.”

So we have two kinds of girls: The Pure and the Promiscuous; the Madonna and the Whore. Good girls go to church, listen to their elders, believe the morality tales, play by the rules, engage in female politics during coffee hour and have support for life. The wild girls flirt, play around, carouse with the boys and get pregnant and spend a life on their own. Picture poor Hester Prynne living on the edge of the village with Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. We know which side of the Madonna/Whore line she fell on.

This is one interpretation of how the females of the species would fare in a matriarchal control system. It would produce the promiscuous girl and the chaste virgin, each trying to exploit whatever environment they find themselves in. Though some might contain more of one trait than another, all women possess both. But how would males respond to this kind of self-domestication?

If males originally evolved to allow one female to deliver some of her genetic material to one or more other females, then it is understandable that the most energetic males, who would be able to deliver their payloads to as many females as possible, would be selected. But again, it is not the number of offspring. It is the number of offspring who, themselves, grow up to have offspring. The first part is fitness, the second part is selection.

So let’s consider two males: one who accepts to teaching of his female caretakers (he, after all, grows up in the same nursing environment, is descended from the same females, benefits from the extended caretaking time and possesses the same genes) and one who rebels. The girls are being pressured to accept a mate for life, selected by the match makers of the village. So are the boys. Those who accept this arrangement live a long life, are productive members of society, are guaranteed a place in heaven, have as many children as possible, are elected village elders and told things like ‘A man’s house is his castle’, keep his wife locked up in a pumpkin shell and get to feel smug and superior. His children have access to the same support structure and cultural and religious conditioning. Evolution marches on apace. Some refuse, or try to have it both ways, running around with the easy girls and getting married to Susie Homemaker. Those may have more offspring, but again, how many will live to have children of their own? Some will, of course. After all, Susie Homemaker may be the one fooling around. The tug of war pulls both ways. But, of course, if you get Miss Easy Girl pregnant, society may impose its strongest control measure: Marriage.

Who invented marriage, anyway? Not men, that’s for sure. Marriage is all about women.

The sieve of evolution sifts through both behaviors by letting them play out and simply counting the results. In evolutionary strategies, whoever has the most children, wins. But not quite. Evolution does not completely prune away poorer performing genes. They continue in the population and vie for attention, just like the hot and cold thermostat turners. And sometimes there is no clear winner in conflicting genes. With the dueling thermostat warriors, sometimes one gets the upper hand, sometimes the other. If one gets too aggressive it ends up killing them both. Satan and Christ are brothers.

The tapestry of evolution resembles more the psychotic smearing of a Van Gogh than the clockwork precision of a da Vinci. Sometimes playing by the rules gets the most benefit. But sometimes those genes to break the rules come into play. The Madonna and the Whore genes sit on every girl’s shoulders. The evolution of civilization has only intensified this, since a major part of civilized behavior is repressing visceral behavior: Governing those genes. That’s Christianity. That’s civilization. But governed genes don’t go away, they just wait.

Unfortunately, governing those genes merely means that we suppress them, not that we eliminate them. Hence the neurosis that is mankind. Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Just another expression of this dichotomy. Hyde may have been shrunken and distorted from millennia of suppression, but he was not destroyed. It would be easier if all of our genes were fully expressed. Then the worst behaving ones would be eliminated. But instead, they vie with each other. Some genes are never fully expressed because they are being throttled by their adversary genes. That means they can never be de-selected. Or, the fact that they are governable is what makes them selectable.

Or maybe some genes only need expressing once in a while. We may go on glibly thinking we are civilized, moral, upstanding members of the community. But if a tragedy occurs, as has been all too frequent in our past, the beast within is let loose. We just don’t know what lurks in the hearts of men.

Explaining the Unexplainable: The Well Governed Shark and the Lie We Live By

Human genes possess the chimp like properties of our ancestors. They also possess regulatory processes that are expressed as arbitrary philosophical systems of religion and ethics and even science. In the question of which came first, the philosophy or the behavior, behavior wins every time. Our philosophy merely supports what we already do. We are in a tug of war where neither side is ever completely pulled into the middle. Both struggle against each other throughout life.

A man mocks the gods and then, sometime later, has something bad happen to him. Coincidence? Of course. Everything is driven by chance. But, as with the JFK conspiracies, the human brain abhors a meaning vacuum. There will be some observer who will seize upon that accident and claim divine intervention. God gave you that mouth sore because you blasphemed him. The brain that evolution created is very good and pattern matching. So good that it doesn’t even matter whether a pattern is there or not.

A child fusses and his mother tells him bad things will happen to him. Maybe this succeeds in quieting him down. After all, something bad is bound to happen to mocking men and fussy children eventually. That reinforces the morality tale. Evidence which, though statistically indistinguishable from noise, contains emotional validation. And when something bad happens to reverent man and well behaved children? Then we just shake our heads and say, “God only knows.” Not too many people point out that the same God is active in each mysterious event. The same god that visited shame and punishment upon some mocking men and fussy children also visited it upon some of all of the others.

And this God? His name is Chance. Take every occurrence of the words ‘God,’ ‘Divine Providence,’ ‘Karma,’ ‘Purpose,’ ‘Destiny,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Savior,’ and any other word or phrase denoting agency and substitute the word ‘Chance.’ What do you get? Chance bless you. Chance bless us, everyone. But for chance, there go I. It was chanced to be. Chance only knows. The Good Chance made them all.

Still, the tendency to create moralistic explanations for chance events is one of the things that helped humans domesticate themselves. Chance events create both meaningless tragedies and blessed events in our lives. Chance events also produced our drive to find that meaning and, thereby, order, control and submission in our fellows and our children, who then grew up with conflicting views of a universe on which there can be no non conflicting views. There’s just no sense there. And our attempts to find sense there are equally senseless, equally the product of chance.

It is important to realize that both of these behaviors are coming from the same source: Genetics. There is no higher vs. lower nature. No spiritual man vs. carnal man. No battle of angels and devils manifest in human society. No Prometheus giving fire to man and then being chained to a rock for his indiscretion. No incarnate gods bringing the war of Good vs. Evil to the plain of Time. No PWB manipulating us ‘Sheeple.’ They are all just genes vying for expression: One pulling you one way, one pulling you another. Whichever one wins at the moment gets to direct your response to the outside world, but only for that moment. Our religions and great stories are just commentary on a baffling process over which we have no control. We are the spectators in a sport where we are also the players, the managers, the trainers and the promoters. It’s all us.

What’s the greatest lesson we can take from this, if any? That society, all of our philosophy, literature, religion, love poetry, pickup lines, funeral dirges, feast days and fast days; in short, all that makes us human, are our attempts to make sense of the random things that evolved to make us human. There is no reason for any human endeavor or philosophy in a teleological way. These are just things that happened that then allowed other things to happen that prevented other things from happening that then produced us in no particular order and for no reason. Truth, meaning, beauty. Just words that come from vocal chords, the existence of which thousands of years ago allowed our ancestors to have more children to make more meaningless noises. Those who made those noises and those who interpreted them that way were selected.

Our philosophies and societies are just alleles, traits that exist with no more meaning than a bee’s sting or a flower’s petals. Our genes are random and the urges that pull us in all directions are merely the balance of forces making us somewhat neurotic.

By somewhat I mean largely and by neurotic I mean schizophrenic.

We do not control our own lives. We, the conscious little bit of us, that is, merely sits above the maelstrom of emotions and makes up pleasing tales to explain why things happen the way we do. Some of these tales we call myth, culture, refinement, civilization, breeding (funny, that) and a proper upbringing. Some we call science. I call these things ‘The Lie we Live By.’ A lie in the sense that there is no ultimate authority upon which they rest for validation. They are things we make up. Not a lie in the malicious sense, but the lie we live by. We use these lies to organize our lives according to the governing rules applied to sharks. There is no justification for our philosophies or science. No Truth, just expedience. Science is not Truth. It is functional. Our Myths are not Truth. They are functional, as well. Our governments and religions are all about bolting our pens at night and keeping the stock in line.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for this article and my own rambling. Evolution is premised on chance alone. The way our minds work, including our science, also evolved to perform a function. And that function was not to create pragmatic and somewhat fatalistic articles like this one. Science makes no claims to authority; it merely states that things are self-evident. The epistemology of science makes no claims to a higher authority or a rational for its existence. Evolution is just as prone to produce a delusional mind as it is a rational one, so long as the results conform to the rules of evolution. In other words, if it works, it gets selected. Insane minds, if they success, will soon outnumber sane ones. Come to think of it, whichever mind succeeds is by definition ‘sane.’ True of opposable thumbs, true of minds, as well. Instead of angry chimps, we have become domesticated humans. So what do we make of our philosophies?

The only conclusion to which a sane person can arrive is that the human race is, indeed, insane.


I had wanted to end this article here. Actually, I wrote the last line first and spent the past two years backfilling from there. It’s true, there’s no meaning, and therefore no benchmark against which you can measure the moral fiber of life, it is a circle with neither center nor circumference. Life is about what works, not about what things seem to be or should be. Seemings and shoulds are the things we fill in later. Still, that’s not a good way to end an essay. If that’s the case, then why bother? Just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

If there is meaning in the world, I can’t find it. The world just seems to be ‘here.’ If you believe in chance, then every other possible world has to be ‘somewhere’ too. We are just one particular expression of the state space of all possible worlds. Plato, except that our world of pure forms includes more than just the perfect ones. Still, I just can’t accept the Hedonistic view. My genes won’t let me, I suppose. After all, I could be wrong. The state space of the randomly created brain harboring this mind is not infallible. Not by a long shot. So I remain a ninety nine percent atheist. Everything seems to suggest that the universe and everything in it is an accident. But maybe that’s not so. Will we ever know? I certainly don’t know, but I’m willing to take what comes and accept my own fallibility. It’s really quite pleasant when you realize that anything can happen.

So, here we are. The world exists. Life exists. We exist. It’s a wonder, no doubt. A splendor of possibilities. Enjoy it. Appreciate it. Find your own peace. Wherever it came from, the Universe is a stupendous thing. Don’t miss it! You’ll hate yourself.

1 comment:

Justin said...

You are using very anthropomorphic arguments here and attributing them to evolution. To be more precise, culture and socialization are not necessarily driven by evolution.

"From the standpoint of evolution, the killers were more fit than the killed. After all, you have to be alive to pass on your genes."

Right, which is to say that genes that cause cancer should have long ago died out. Except that some of them do not manifest before the host passes on their genes. The same could be said of murder, it is pathological, but tends to happen late enough in the life cycle that the murdered has a good chance of passing on their genes. Just because something is does not tautologically make it evolutionary selection.

Much of the rest of the argument is very similar, such as the point about how we could not grow such large brains without communities. That's a chicken and egg problem if I ever heard of it. (How did we get the communities to start growing those brains in the first place?)

Your remarks about civilization are equally loaded. Every civilization that has ever been created has cratered, yet humans have continued on. Additionally, from what we know of civilization, it often takes on pathological, sociopathic emergent behaviors. Witness our own civilization and its march of progress to extinction. It would make as much sense to say that civilization is a malfunctioning evolutionary trait as it would to say that it is part of our evolution.