on Overwhelming Power

Chapter 11, two to go!

This, my sort of Live Tweeting as I read The Goodness Paradox, by Richard Wrangham, on the first pass . . . I’m not holding back. I plan to do better after a second read.

. . .

I guess it’s all still selection, all lethal “proactive violence,” which again, I’m sad no-one’s solved it all yet, but I still see room for the absent issues of non-lethal proactive aggression, maybe. It still feels like evo-psych world, and – I thought I was halfway through, I’m almost done, most of the back half is indexes. I think – I think – the roots of our morality are these, if I hear him correctly, not sure I agree it’s all of it –

That somehow we got the idea to gang up on the alpha and dispatch him, basically that all the big males, to improve their chances and lives agreed to a truce and power sharing. This gang, more powerful than any alpha by definition, found they could deal with everyone this way, and when everyone learned to internalize their fear of the gang and its rules, that this is what becomes our “moral sense,” (as though there were such a single function thing, like a popcorn maker, taking up evolutionary counter-space that could hold a multi-function thing, but that’s not important right now) our guide to what is “right” or “wrong.”

I find this validating, it came to me as a young man that “guilt” may be nothing more than straight up fear of reprisal, that it’s a euphemistic concept.

That’s not bad. We have ideals, and I believe the job is to project some ideal of “right” and reach for it, and I have not yet learned enough science to believe that even our projections must be limited by our evolution, I mean do we really have alleles for rocket science? Can we not imagine things beyond our programming? I’m saying I can find a way to accept the biology that supports our limits in our moral orientation, but I need to believe that we can at least imagine something better to hope for, to work towards. Sometimes it sounds like we think the worst version, the most basic, is the “real” one. We are trying to create one, any “moral systems” will be artificial.

It looks like the alpha was a participant or an agent of chaos, I think this is the alpha Wrangham is saying is gone. The gang is more powerful, its “alpha” power is worse, but the act of creating and having the coalition, this is . . . directed, planned, the chaos was removed? The alpha’s pleasure is chaos, but the gang’s pleasure has a filter, it must be a common pleasure to the men? This, at this stage, counts as direction? It’s the birth of inequality and privilege, I suppose, I imagine there was an improvement in quality of life for the gang members’ families. Three hundred thousand years ago we dropped primate castes and invented human classes, no alpha, but a ruling class? It is easy to imagine how it would have the staying power.

As logic of selection stuff goes, it’s better than most. It sounds like EP, sounds male, only male killing matters, but it’s not easily dismissed.

I worry there is no puzzle here that needs me, that this argument is good enough that no-one is going to think that anything is lacking in it. I’ll keep trying of course, it still rankles. I’m afraid my AST and the other side of the genetic equation – that the allele is the support for an environmental situation and we create our environmental situations – may only be additive, and not deemed essential to understanding. As I say, I shall keep at it; I’m not satisfied yet.

It’s Monday, I’ve missed church, sorry.


July 20th., 2020

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