A neat little “just so” package that couldn’t possibly be true, except . . .
I think AST may have a suggestion as to how we began, how we got on this path to what we’re calling civilization, between three elements, the organization of group animals into hierarchies with the dominance of the alphas, AST, which describes the technology of abuse (including the technology of punishment and the human “moral” framework), and finally, perhaps a foundational case of Trivers’ evolved self deception.
The primate alpha starts the abuse, to establish his privilege, and his victims, stressed, hurting, or simply hurting socially, turn and take their hurt on someone they can, and so the abuse, like the stuff of plumbing problems, flows downhill in a champagne fountain of cortisol – I believe this is Sapolsky’s description of the average baboon troop, in my own words, of course. I think we see similar stuff in the chimpanzees and I think most folks think that was us at some point – even those who don’t think it’s still us today, that is – so that was the first condition and the first bit of science, biological dominance behaviours and deflection, and the resulting abuse-sharing pyramid scheme.
At some point, the champagne fountain of stress and pain becomes entrenched, and this is where maybe we engage the rationalizations, the self deception – “I meant to do that,” kind of thing. “No, I didn’t beat your ass because I’m a subordinate and the boss beat mine! I did it because I’m the alpha in our relationship and I say it’s good for you.” You know, prepare you for adulthood, when the boss’s kids do this to you – “my” idea, not clearly the boss’ agenda. And then this whole, species-wide crap about how it’s good for you, how you’re “spoiled” without it. So, that was the third condition, us lying to ourselves, and maybe the effect among these causes, to some degree, the baboon volcano of fear and violence that encompasses us all and starts with some alpha swine over-prioritizing himself and ends with us all explaining to our kids, “no, this was my idea, and this is good for you.”
I meant to do that.
Despite the lies we tell regarding why we do what we do and what effects our actions can have, though, there is and clearly has to be an actual reason or several that we do these things, a powerful reason this behaviour took our species over and won’t let go, and I have ranted almost endlessly trying to make the point that we antisocialize ourselves in service of conflict, of crappy old game theory. And I’m agin’ it. Whenever I’m reading some description of nasty old nature, I always think I’m hearing approval, advocacy for violent selection processes – not what I’m trying to do at all, I think I’m describing hidden, secret nasty old nature, not to say roll with it, but to say this is the trap here, the invisible fence, this is what we need to break out of.
Which comes first, the selection for abuse, or the cover story, I can’t tell. One would think they happen together, but perhaps there have been and still are places where no pretense of “good for you” is even made, times and/or places where “good for me” was all you got. So I think, in terms of causality and history, the deceit is the latest element, the modern, perhaps liberal adaptation we apply over our antisocialization – making people “good,” teaching them “right from wrong.” Surely your liberals beat their children to make them non-violent, at least that’s supposed to be the plan. So now they think that what was always a single purpose technology – violence and desensitization in service of the troop’s warrior goals – now they think it’s a magic wand, violence and desensitization in service of whatever we say! Nothing simple and understandable here, cause matched to an effect, no – we apply a single stimulus and get whatever result we wanted, is this a great country or what.
I liked Wrangham’s synopsis of capital punishment as an evolved way to deal with tyrants – we should try it sometime.
I mean it sounds great, but I’m not sure we ever did, not regularly, at least. The alpha sets the tone and it permeates everything in our lives, this human lifestyle is his. There have almost certainly been some shining examples, but the mainstream evolution thread here is the dark side, I think we should admit that before it’s all over, any minute now. Warrior society is where we all have Stockholm Syndrome and appear to love the randomly violent alpha (a predator of sorts) and if a bunch of reasonable men want to kill him, they’re going to have the whole world to go through first.
All I’m saying, and I can’t believe it’s taking me so long, and why it seems so strange from my angle or something, is that the baboon pyramid of abuse is very much still in effect, and it is still the major cause and effect loop in human society. The punishment/morality function we insist upon is a minor thread, as lovely and as fictional as Wrangham’s control of tyrants by majority action. Understandable sort of error, we’re trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to salvage some good from the trauma. By the by, the only example that comes to mind is Julius Caesar, maybe the French Revolution – how many alphas have been taken down by their lessers in history? That’s the next alpha’s job, isn’t it?
My idea to call AST a condition, the second in our list, goes like this: AST is the practice of physical and social abuse in order to activate physiological and psychological genetic changes towards aggression. This I believe to be a species-wide phenomenon that supports our lifestyle of group conflict, making us all mean enough to defend the homeland and crazy enough to attack the enemy’s homeland. It is therefore, at present, a Red Queen’s race, with every human group basically as tough and murderous as the next, but one for survival, and therefore an important evolved function which manifests as systems of crime and punishment, rules and penalties – naughty steps, timeout rooms, prisons . . . hey.
It’s good for you – I mean if being tough is good for you, if life is a fight and only the tough survive, then some abuse is good for you, some practice at least, some practical knowledge, knowing how to fight – but it’s not all good, is it? I wouldn’t object to simply knowing how to fight, being able, I sort of hoped my kids would take an interest for their self-defence but they had zero interest, maybe because I tried not to abuse them or even punish them. I think though, antisocialization is an emotional process, a “strong” fellow who can fight and defend is generally one who started by wanting to hurt people, a trait perhaps present in us all by default, but certainly mostly enhanced by pain and abuse. My point here though, is this is what “good” means in contexts of child-rearing or adult attempts at behaviour modification, in conversations about law and order, crime and punishment – antisocial, wanting to, able to fight. It’s what “spoiled” means – an early childhood free of abuse means that kid will never be the willing, driven, snarling soldier he might have been. Some things you just can’t teach.
This is what it means in reality, I mean, whether we know it or not. We punish someone – apply some legal and scientifically defined abuse as a deterrent – and they get “better.” They don’t always get better in a good way, don’t always stop breaking rules and such – but they get better the other way, desensitized, tough.
OK, I’ve lost track, giving my usual definitions, where were we?
It starts with random violence, maybe random alpha violence, then to deflection, and then to the straight up leveraging of abuse to produce aggressive soldiers, and finally to some upside down situation where we’re still employing that technology, still leveraging abuse to toughen our kids and criminals – but all this pre-existing structure is at odds with our modern, so far only ostensible desire for peace on Earth – so we just say “makes you good” – a word with no content whatsoever, a simple value judgement with no references to the how or why of the situation. Don’t worry, it’ll be “good.” You’re going to “love” this.
Again, it’s all good as long as we need these tough little psychopaths to protect us from all those tough little psychopaths, I guess. We have been stuck in this game forever, and despite that humankind is starting to have higher goals, this layer of self deception, this widespread conflation of what “good” we achieve with our morality of pain and coercion keeps us at the warrior society stage forever.
Aug. 31st., 2019