Self-domesticated Humans

“Self-domesticated humans” makes sense to me in this disgusting game theory way: the ol’ “you might fight a guy who’s tougher than you, but you don’t want to fight someone who is crazier than you” principle, the prison truism that Muhammad Ali talked about when he set about driving around to Liston’s house to intimidate him before the big fight. We aren’t tougher, like they say, canines almost gone and whatnot, light frames, no claws – but we are crazier, so we dominate. Like, there’s domesticated and then there’s domesticated. Sure we are, but we are a whole lot closer to a circus elephant than to a dog – you want to see how tame I am, attack me, dogs take abuse and give back love, generally speaking.

Whether or not we know ourselves, more like dogs or elephants, it’s clear that we treat each other as though we assume ourselves to be the more cantankerous of the two.

I guess I would remove the “self” and then be quite happy with the whole idea.

I suppose it’s true of the dogs and the bonobos, their taming may have indeed been self-done, we do not see them forcing one another into their affiliative behaviour, do we? Of course the fox farm was deliberate, and not by foxes. There is a middle ground, always what I’m ending up on – Sapolsky would approve! – domesticated by other humans, but not by ourselves. By abusive group control, by our uppers in the hierarchy – therefore, crazy and volatile? Pretty simple, but have you ever tried to not do that, group control, abusive punishments? It’s easier said than done, and saying it isn’t even easy.

(On my television, a veterinarian, Dr. Pol just said “animals just take what life gives them and make the most of it” talking about three-legged cat amputees, and this apparent truism would seem to be the inverse of my life’s point: that humans do not, that humans have a different response to misfortune, probably the “response to abuse” that I’m interested in.)

Oddly, maybe even ironically, self-domestication is what I’m calling for, voluntary domestication – OK, there’s a bit of fiction in that, I don’t really think we have to do much to ourselves, pretty much just stop forcing our present version of “domestication” on one another like a whole species of circus animal trainers. Again, easier said, and even that.

OK, I am trying to read and learn rather than write and figure things out for myself at the moment, so I’m going to try to suspend this effort for a bit – but one observation as I read – every time I read some existing material on the subject of human origins, civilization, morality, etc., my experience follows a pattern.

Reading this paper right now –

The origins of criminal law

Daniel Sznycer and Carlton Patrick

At the beginning, I always feel intimidated and threatened, OMG, I ‘m wrong, this looks like enough to explain what I thought was left unexplained! This stress is decreasing over time, however, because the rest of the pattern is that by the end, I’m back, Baby! So the beginning, the proposition, “this is what I will show,” – I’m a low self-image fool, I believe that, apparently, but I am learning. By the end, I do not feel I’ve been “shown,” in the end, their proofs are the premises of human nature that I think I have disproved, the very points I take issue with and wish to argue about.

Another – papers that prove that human behaviour derives from science and evolution as opposed to laws being handed down by a god or a worshipped ancestor are not arguments against AST, simple “biology, not creation” papers are not revelatory or interesting to me anymore. What about “the pain of the punished has its own causality too” somehow becomes “law is not biological?” I never said any such thing and I deny none of what is in that paper. I only say, sure, but also this.

Moving on to this one now –

Two types of aggression in human evolution

Richard W. Wrangham

Edited by Kristen Hawkes, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, and approved November 20, 2017 (received for review August 7, 2017)

First, no argument with the opening and the premise. I suspect we’ll see a trade-off, of reactive aggression for the proactive sort over time – selected for by capital punishment! Already a surprise! The insight I need to record, though – my feeling, what gets me naysaying, he seems to be laying out – the reactive aggression is reactive (less harshly punishable, by the other paper), more forgivable. Whereas the proactive sort seems to be of our own making, and therefore what is wrong about it seems worse, intentionality is always treated as worse, again, per the other paper, but also per general knowledge. Except not, in the special case of “punishment?” That we mean, but that is still free, supposedly no cost? Wait, too much.

Actually, no, not too much, his point also, sort of, by the end! But back to live-commentary.

“The Hobbes–Huxley position rightly recognizes the high potential for proactive violence, while the Rousseau–Kropotkin position correctly notes the low frequency of reactive aggression.”

AST does draw a line between the two, offering another solution, AST sees the Rousseau assessment of a newborn human as correct, on the bonobo side, but finds the change to be imposed not by “culture,” “society,” or anything very conscious, but by force and pain, trauma, which all cultures employ and all societies deny the cost of.

AST agrees with Hobbes that hierarchies impose systems of proactive aggression, but not with some aspects of that side of the issue, not that this has resulted in any net reduction of aggression when we add both kinds together. (Again, Wrangham acknowledges this problem, it’s pretty much the point of this paper.)

I feel that a life of reactive aggression seems to be what we call freedom and freedom from oppression, because the fighting is a part time thing, and peace exists in the times between – whereas a life of proactive aggression seems to be a full time job, 24/7. Reactive aggression is an organic ebb and flow, whereas proactive aggression is a technology, storage of the normal flow, reservoirs and spillways, build-ups and releases, failures and floods. It’s almost the name for AST that I was looking for already.

But it’s never-ending, we are forever creating and storing these aggressive feelings; the pressure of one’s reservoirs must be consistent. I suppose it is in the Hobbes-Huxley mode of thought that sports etc., tap off our excess aggression, but not that we control its volume positively, that we overfilled it in the first place, and that we like to keep it at or near capacity. For them, we are simply born this way, the tacit original sin idea that seems to be the background of everything.

(Of course the entire argument has aggression and its subcategories all as nouns, it’s got the passive voice aspect that riles me up, but that is normal. Naming things is basic science, sort of unavoidable.)

“Although the neural basis of human proactive aggression is not well understood, the critical result is that it is different from reactive aggression (42, 64).” – my ignorance is screaming “maybe because proactive means a choice, a decision, as opposed to an automatic reaction? Maybe our decisions don’t show up on EEGs?”

Maybe the biology of the proactive aggression is all on the behavioural side, the cultural side (again, larger than “society” or “culture,” though) – and it seems to be exactly only proactive aggression that AST is concerned with, proactive aggression is the sort I’m trying to solve, I’m not trying to strip anyone of their proper, normal self defense.

AST is exactly the science about proactive aggression in humans that seems to be missing, not the neurocircuitry, but the . . . function. I don’t really say it’s the first cause, but I think I make a great case that abuse enhances our proactive aggression. The illicit abuse provides the conscious reason for the punitive abuse – while both sorts follow the “violence breeds violence” pattern – how we imagine this to somehow add up to a net reduction . . .

“Since there are long-term benefits from killing members of neighboring groups, natural selection has putatively favored this style of proactive aggression (13, 108–110). Essentially the same explanation applies to chimpanzees and hunter-gatherers, except that humans have cultural systems of reward and coercion that promote more risk taking (82, 111, 112). As a result, compared with chimpanzees, during intergroup aggression human attackers are more likely to be wounded or die (82).” – this was one of my first definitions of AST! The italics are mine.

“However, to date the execution hypothesis has treated aggression unimodally, which is problematic: The hypothesis argues that a propensity for aggression became down-regulated as a result of aggressors’ being killed by capital punishment, yet those who carried out the killings were by definition exhibiting a high level of aggression. Fitness benefits that the killers received by executing aggressive victims would undermine selection against aggression.

The bimodal view of aggression readily solves the problem.” – LOL. By defining proactive aggression and violence as “good?” Sorry.

And yes, apparently. –

“Among hunter-gatherers and universally, aggression exhibited by the executioners is proactive: It is carefully planned so as to minimize the risk of a victim fighting back (127). According to Boehm (127) the victims of capital punishment were frequently men with a history of aggression. When the victims had high propensities for reactive aggression, the long-term effect would be a reduction in reactive aggression. When the victims killed because of their proactive aggression, there would have been no long-term effect since executioners and victims were displaying similar tendencies.”

Sigh.

But I’ve said as much.

This is where AST may still be still important, however. How much of a leap is it to suggest that our punishment schemes that do not control or select against proactive aggression actually support it, and how much of one from there to that it enhances it, even creates it? No secret – I have this idea that we take it too far, that it has become a major problem, that our obsession with it has destroyed the Earth.

I’m starting to see that Wrangham is not my opposition at all, that was the media I was glimpsing him through, we’re close and he may be feeling outnumbered about it too.

“More attention to proactive aggression is overdue.”

Yes, absolutely. Brother From Another Mother! That paper was terrific – and understandable, a pleasant surprise for a paper, for me. I often cannot glean the point in science papers, I often cannot find the verb in the sentences, there is some convention of science writing I do not grasp where verbs are somehow not required or something. Wrangham manages clarity in the form, so maybe Pinker is right, some scientists just lack the knack. Again with the low self-image, I thought I was the problem.

So, what I am trying to do is translate all this impersonal science into some practical advice, or a plan for humanity – as though humanity were looking for one or something, I know – and what I have come up with is stop with the whoopings and stop with this “strength” worship. There is some awful myth about “good strength” that keeps us in the hierarchy, keeps the alpha on his throne when we’re supposed to be executing him instead, part of the “good” proactive aggression, uh, tendency, I suppose.

Long term, pie in the sky answer? In the sorts of terms we use for this, strength, competition, fights, maybe even “fitness” all need to be classified as cheating, on the “we don’t do that” side of things, I mean, if we really want anything to change.

 

Jeff

May 23rd., 2020

 

*someone emailed me those papers, I don’t know that I can re-broadcast them, I suspect they’re behind some paywall somewhere, so it’s just titles, authors and commentary here. Hopefully, they’re not hard to find.

One thought on “Self-domesticated Humans

  1. Jeff/neighsayer May 24, 2020 / 10:31 am

    I just googled the title, “two types of aggression in human evolution” and saw the whole text, it’s free.

    Like

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