Alphas, Betas, and Human Beings

Alphas, Betas, and Human Beings

 

Brainstorming session.

Our line split with the chimps’ line about five million years ago and the chimpanzee and bonobo line halfway between then and now. To infer some simple three-way split on any behavioural vector over that sort of timeframe is crazy, we all could have played one another’s parts a thousand times over by now, but it looks today, within my paradigm, antisocialization theory, that we split by winning some sort of a war, by finding a way to rule the drying world and the savanna and thus relegating the cousins that became the chimpanzees to the shrinking rain forests. We split, we changed, and we became dominant, took over the world.

Now the general, hippy-dippy environment that produced antisocialization theory would like to see a continuum, that we got meaner and split from the root-stock, and if that’s a repeatable biological function, that today’s chimps perhaps also split from the rootstock by getting meaner, and the rootstock maybe resembles the bonobos, that is to say, only as mean as an animal needs to be who isn’t at war with its own, tough enough for nature but not apparently genocidal and specicidal like homo sapiens. If there were anything else to support this sort of a trend, then we might see the chimpanzees as a few steps down our road to antisocialization and wars.

As it stands, these are just tempting just-so stories.

I’ll elaborate, and build an edifice on these shifting sands, of course, because I’m trying to make thinking this way possible, trying to create a different paradigm. New ideas need a lot of preparation, decades of groundwork. Trivers has said that his first big theory and book was well purchased and even well read, but not understood. I think it took a long tome – oops, long time – to change the field, because it took a long time for people to understand it (was it “Social Theory?”). A long tome and then a long time, ha.

If anyone’s following my latest purges, you’ll see that I struggle; I think I have a brilliant new insight, and I write it down, irresponsibly publish, and then realize I’m using all the wrong words, or at least a few critical ones. Case in point, just lately I’m excited about this flash I’ve had about alphas and “betas” – and that “beta” word is probably the opposite of what I’m looking for, the Beta is like the Prime Minister if the Alpha is the king, right? I wasn’t looking for the second most successful randomly violent and oppressive male in the troop, I was going for the opposite of an alpha, not an alpha wannabe – I need to be saying “non-alpha” or “affiliative males” or something, right? I’m sorry. It’s the basic alpha meme still working in me – friggin’ genius figures out the alpha’s an asshole, but he’s pretty sure the asshole’s lieutenants are all right still, and so, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. No.

That wasn’t the idea.

The point was to say that a better definition of altruism is mostly non-alpha group members cooperating in such a way as to manage, limit and control the destructive power of the alphas, that the benefits are for the group.

Still in just-so storyboarding mode, my first attempts to flesh this out will follow my heart and postulate that altruism is not a group function, not only a non-alpha strategy against one’s own alphas but rather a status or class function that seems able to work across groups, as in the parable of the good Samaritan, or as with the global goals of political movements, rather than an inter-group competitive one, which inter-group competitive strategies I’ll postulate as alpha methods.

Back to our cousins. First, I got questions.

One, it’s clear that the bonobos have a hierarchy, isn’t it? Bonobos got alphas? I mean, my just-so story here says, “no, they don’t,” or at least they’re not the be-all, end-all of their social structure like they are with the baboons.

LOL – apparently the female alpha bonobo is the big Kahuna!

Two, same for chimpanzees, I guess, they got alphas? I know their aggression is portrayed as a result of male bonding and spare time, very much a group hunting party, but where is the alpha in that? Again, that’s inter-group stuff, the raiding parties and it’s what’s brought out in discussions of primate aggression, but I need to research, find out for sure if Sapolsky’s baboons’ champagne fountain of stress is observable among all the versions of chimpanzee as well – meaning not just humans and baboons. Well, having accidentally put it that way, I guess that’s my answer, so I’m just gonna push ahead.

Along that same just-so vector, bonobos as some degree of mean and dangerous, chimpanzees as more so and humans as the most, or the worst, this probably correlated to an increase in the relative power of the alpha within groups of these apes – whups, starting to sound a little Nazi, like it’s a good thing, leader worship insures world domination – nope, that’s not it. Alpha rule insures harsh nature. Alpha rule exists today among all sorts of creatures that cannot read or write or think not to eat their last bit of food the minute they’re hungry.

Alpha rule is well documented by Sapolsky, again, a champagne fountain of cortisol would seem to be the structure of baboon life. I think it’s a mistake to assume that structure is associated with increased cranial capacity, though. We’re fairly sure that it was something about the inter-group conflict that did that, I think mostly, the daunting task of gleaning friend from foe. Social hierarchy among primates would seem to be more foundational than the giant human brainpan – random alpha violence and all.

(Oh no, new disruptive thought: alpha-ism increases with human dominance of other creatures, providing our own predator audit on the old and sick, the weak links, when external predation is successfully controlled? Never mind! Later.)

This is a thought I would rather avoid, but that’s not a voice to follow if you’re lucky enough to notice it, so, what about this – altruism developed as a cooperative strategy among the non-alphas, eventually evolving to civilization and law, morality, religion, all the nice things in modern human life – art? Sure, why not? LOL. Unfortunately, despite all the great things the non-alpha’s strategy has produced, success in the original venture isn’t one of them. Law has not replaced the alpha or the primate social hierarchy. The truth may be somewhere on a spectrum between that the best examples of humanity’s highest moral achievement show that the non-alphas and their altruism are making inroads and on the other hand that this non-alpha strategy simply can also provide a terrifying level of organization for the alpha’s violence.

That’s an awful thought and it means it’s a very high stakes contest.

Perhaps, with this little bit of apparent success, now it is time to step it up and get conscious about it, if we knew what the goal of being good was, which we didn’t, we might have a chance at more progress. The current, Trivers’ defined version of biological altruism, that’s the opposite of the altruism we need in this shrinking world, altruism just for your existing social group, that is not morality, that is a recipe for war. In conversations about morality, altruism is much bigger, more global – and this idea, that it’s a hedge against alpha-ism, well.

That might be closer to the right order of magnitude. That might work. This is one we need to stop going to our archetypal “leaders” for, and start to think in terms of reigning those guys in instead.

. . . continued, probably, still thinking.

Jeff,

Dec. 5th., 2017

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No Room in the Warrior Society

. . . for a boy who won’t fight. I thought I read it in The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris, but I can’t find it. It may have been in one of some shorter papers I’ve read by her, or one of Steven Pinker’s books, I’ll keep looking, but it was in one of those very popular science books, so the idea is out there. If it was in anything I’ve read, then it wasn’t one of those author’s own papers originally . . . I’ll have to find it to cite it, won’t I? Anyhow, I think the story was in support of the Nurture Assumption’s main idea, that parents do not create child culture, and she describes how in some straight-up forest warrior society, that warrior training occurs in boyhood and timid, won’t fight sorts of boys are abused and goaded into fighting. Those that never do, in this group, according to these anthropologists – Mead? The Yanomamo? – those that never return the blows, are killed as the logical end of the process of fighting them to make them fight. I believe it was the author’s punch line I’m paraphrasing in my opening. No room for weak links, we might need you some day.

Not that I think it would have helped, but I wish I’d had a man around to tell me that fifty-some years ago. Between that and a little info on inherent family conflicts, maybe I would have had a chance not to believe everything Momma tol’ me.

I’ve been a good boy, tried hard and mostly succeeded, but by women’s standards, abused women’s standards. In the boys’ culture of game theory, in the warrior society where I’m supposed to be a man, I am useless. I mean, I passed the tests, the boys’ tests, when I was little, I was a fearless little Irish terror for a while there, but that ended at the beginning of puberty, apparently. The fights I got into after I was twelve or so, I never had any interest in, and I talked the fellow down when I could and avoided him if it seemed like the encounter was destined to imprint the warrior life on my pretty young face. I absolutely let fear rule my life, I switched high schools once and wound up giving up school entirely after that. There were other reasons, but that was absolutely one of them. I just realized something.

I never fantasized winning the fights I avoided.

I mean, I fantasize fight situations, I’m a man, I run little simulations, I tell myself that if some badass walked in my door to do me in, that I would have a chance, a plan – but I don’t think I have ever had a daydream where I won a fight against these bullies from my life. Realism may be a factor, I really had zero chance, size, experience, and everything else would have been a hundred to one sort of a thing. My only chance would have been to surprise them with a knife or something, and even then, size and experience. Plus, these dudes guaranteed had switchblades of their own – and experience. But to never fantasize a thing like that? My gonads aren’t working, right? I lived in terror, changed my life – but I wouldn’t want the fight even if I knew I could win it. It’s not like I’ve been going around getting into fights I think I can win either! Are we there yet?

No room for me in this world, is what I’m saying. No room for a man who won’t be a man. Maybe I was nine or ten when I stopped fighting, it was one my childhood experiments, I guess I thought I’d try to unload on someone.

There was this Zeta (I better look that up too) juvenile male, the one everybody seemed to unload on, it seemed that everyone beat this kid, I don’t know why, but he was my age, nine, ten, and he looked like The Battler already, anything that was going to flatten out or break on Rodney’s face already was, you know? This is certainly an unfair characterization; it’s a childhood memory and I know I’m using Rodney now for my own ends. I’m sorry, Rod, if you’re still out there. All I really remember is his wide forehead and hard, sharp nose – he kept his chin tucked, I guess. I’m not happy with my impulse in this story, all I can say is, I’m happy it only happened once.

I decided I would unload on this kid, that I would give beating someone up a try, see if I liked it or something. I don’t think I thought “unload” at the time, that’s how I see it now, having taken from schooling from the Master of Stress, Dr. Robert Sapolsky. I found him after school or something, cornered him and started throwing punches at him, hurting my hands on him and then I just had this WTF am I doing moment right in the middle of it and I stopped, apologized, told him I had no idea why I was doing it and I think I promised him he’d have no more to worry about from me. I think I also realized at that moment that he was five times tougher than me, and to this day I count myself very lucky he didn’t turn the fight around and give me the stomping I deserved.

It looks like deep wisdom to me now, Rodney, you schooled me, let he who is without sin, kind of thing. You were a huge influence on my mind and my life – is it Brown, Rodney Brown? White guy, Mount Pleasant Elementary, around 1970? I was a fledgling bully for a second there, and my first victim was an experienced one, a goddam expert. Maybe I’m giving too much credit, but the last guy in the world who had any obligation to be modelling peace for anybody accepted my apology and that was the end of it, which, in hindsight was Mandela-esque. I don’t know how life’s been or if you’re still out there, but you sure did right by me, even if I’m romanticizing your agency in the matter. You probably had fighting back thoroughly beaten out of you, no doubt what made you so attractive as a victim, right?

You hear that? Me, thanking Rodney and the Academy for my pacifism?

Truth to tell, I lost track a little there, memories intruding; I was supposed to be complaining about my low-T, not bragging, but that’s it, isn’t it? I’m talking about the downsides of my own attitudes. I have a low testosterone attitude, and proud as I may be of it, society doesn’t reward that sort of thing – just abused terrified women like to encourage that sort of thing, for obvious, understandable sorts of reasons, that don’t help me in my situation at all. So here I am today, with a fuzzy, half-formed consciousness of the origin of my passivity, and I know it exists for someone else’s survival strategy and is almost certainly detrimental to my own, meaning my morality is the morality provided for me by abused and fearful women, it’s all based on the idea that men are beasts or something and all their desires should be denied, me and mine expressly included – what are my options?

I’ve said it before: I looked at something I oughtn’t to have. Having questioned punishing, and so force and dominance, all of that, I don’t really think I have the option of just changing my mind, I mean it’s not a change of mind, it’s a learning thing. I am not going to just start trying to dominate anyone (sorry – it’s coming up soon, I mean I can’t start exercising any traditional male power in my family now, having never done so before. I found myself with no place in my female household, and standing up and demanding one wasn’t going to get me one the same way just complaining and asking didn’t), bring the people around me around to my way of thinking, like some young man who simply believes in himself, simply believes he deserves to and should dominate anyone. Even if I need some control to mitigate my own stress, even so, my having some share of dominance may be a biological need for me, I have seen the downside of that sort of attitude in the world, and it is no longer available to me. It always comes back to Bluebeard for me, you’ll never get any killin’ done if you go around thinking all the time – this is a piece of social sort of advice that I simply cannot take. I assume Sapolsky has come to the same conclusion, he seems to be a genuine fellow, despite of, or because of his revelation that he and all his famous professor author peers are alpha types.

In practical terms, it means the MRAs and the howl at the moon sorts of men’s retreats are exactly the opposite of what I’m looking for, save your invitations to the brotherhood. More importantly in my personal life, because those guys are not going to be part of it, it means I didn’t and can’t sit my girls down and tell them how it is going to be, I cannot make anything happen, despite that it seems to mean that the right thing isn’t happening, despite that all our lives are destroyed because an adult has supported a child’s decision rather than making an adult one themselves. I know I’m talking about both of my kids’ parents, I know it was an immature sort of decision of mine to abstain from my male power, a shirking of the responsibility for that power . . . should I have been normal? Should I have dominated my girls, which is normal, to make sure something like this could never happen to me, that I would get voted off the island and my kids would somehow have been used to do it? You know what it means, right?

Maybe my kid would have been domesticated, maybe when her teen conflict came up, she’d have toed the line and submitted, stayed home and in school – and maybe not. How much of the choice I didn’t make is right and proper and works for our goals, and how many of those folks’ kids simply move out into poverty? In those terms, I can’t and couldn’t make a different decision either. I had given up the option to act like a man and put my foot down about anything at the start of the child-rearing experience. That wasn’t going to be a solution at this late juncture, in fact, the girls all seemed to think that’s what I was doing already, or that I was getting ready to, and so any manly thing I might attempt would only prove their case; I did raise my voice a few times and it was over, they feared things were going to get worse and they had me leave, “to get better and then come back.” They’ve made it clear that they feel my attempts to communicate with them as manipulative and aggressive, so for me to prove I’m not trying to hurt them, I am left only the option of never speaking to them again – and I am very committed to proving it to them, so there we are. I love you girls, and to prove it, I’m going to do what you say and take half our money and leave forever.

(To my mind, that is sort of the fatal, mountain to climb to forgive sort of a sin, that they cut off communication with me. It was clear to me immediately that both there was nothing to “get better and go back” to, I’d given away my spot and my voice was forbidden, and that “getting better” from this, being abandoned by the family during a breakdown, wasn’t the most likely outcome. I begged them on this basis, to deaf ears. I know, they were scared, and if I have to tell you that knowing it was their fear, my wife’s fear that was the matter helped me not a fucking bit, then welcome to the second level of the conversation. You may defer to her fears if you wish, they have nearly killed me, and the outcome is not yet assured.)

I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m not trying to recruit anyone to my side of my divorce fight, I’m only laying it out to demonstrate what happens to a man who won’t play the dominance game, a man who recuses himself of authority, a boy who doesn’t fight. OK, there is something under my skin. We’re invisible too, boys who don’t fight. Life sucks for us because we are like Pit Bulls, it’s not what we do, it’s what we can do – I recused myself from the rewards that a strong man receives, but recusing one’s self from the liabilities, that doesn’t seem to be in my power. My soon to be ex-wife never seems to have understood or believed me that that is what I am, despite that I am the only man she ever heard of who wouldn’t so much as “pat a kid on the bum,” as they say.

All men must be treated as armed and dangerous, we must all be muzzled, apparently, and a life of good behaviour doesn’t change that. I gave it up for nothing, a liberal principle, and my daughters are as fearful of men as they were evolved to be, as though I had beaten them spare. There is a whole lot more to it, mostly just more reasons why they couldn’t have felt otherwise and maybe more of me saying I couldn’t have thought otherwise, a lot of reasons why I need to find a new way forward. Men are indeed dangerous and I worry that by responding to my ouster with passivity and obedience, I am teaching my girls a lesson that will get them hurt the next time they attempt it with some more regular fellow. It was an experiment, my life. It was looking like a spectacular success until suddenly it was over.

I hope the results can help someone someday, because the cost of this experiment was the quality of life for all of us.

 

 

 

Jeff

September 15th., 2017

Us and Them, Vegan version. Vegetarians and Intelligence

OK I can’t lie for long, that’s clickbait manipulation. It’s about both of those things, but not the way it sounds – “they” ain’t smarter or dumber. Vegetarianism is only offered as an example, it’s my stepping off point. I’m no doctor anyhow, I can’t speak to that.

I want to talk about something, something I see in myself and so struggle not to despise. I mean, give us a rest, I know school’s out, but you can’t know everything. Remember, evolution hasn’t required that we do. Critical thinking, formerly known as “thinking,” is applied where it is useful, unavailable where it is not, and declaring one’s self to be critical doesn’t make one omniscient. I’m just talking about how we think, or don’t, as the case may be.

This must be the same sort of insight comics have, and maybe that’s all it is, is a joke, but it has occurred to me that plants probably don’t enjoy being killed and eaten either. I’m not going to cite it, but it’s out there, the science that plants communicate and display some sort of active interactivity with their environments that is at least analogous to intelligence – and barring that, how intelligent do you need to be to not enjoy being killed and eaten? Never mind that for plants it’s possibly even more common than for animals that when this event ends your life, it’s actually the other way around: you’re eaten first and then digested to death!

Of course, this is an argument to the apparently emotional vegetarian and vegan arguments about animal cruelty, as well as the not so emotional ones. I mean, truly, it would be possible for meat eating to continue without a whole lot of the unnecessary cruelty, wait, that sounds like I think it should or must, and I’m not really decided about it. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, full on disregard for animals or equal status – wait again.

I’m afraid that with us, it does seem that way, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t be, is what I’m saying. All or nothing positions are what is required for the battle, but the battle is supposed to be a form of détente. These all or nothing ideologies aren’t supposed to win, because without their opposites, they are just madness. (It’s 2017, talking to all of you with that bit, America, not just Wendy’s and the vegans.)

Back to food, that all on one side madness is evident in the cruelty we see in the meat industry. If it exists among the vegans etc., it’s a lot less visible and a lot less harmful, I mean except if you’re a soybean plant, I guess. Someone tell me, am I missing something? Do vegans differentiate between a plant you have to kill and one you trim or pick? Oops, my “critical thinking” lobe just kicked in again and said being trimmed probably sucks too, tea trees probably aren’t happy either. Wait – I’m outta tea, BRB.

I’m wandering badly today, apologies. The point is, that science about plant intelligence is out there, even popularized in the “The Happening,” the M. Night Shyamalan movie a few years back, but this sort of thing either takes time, or there are things we cannot look at, I mean, you gotta eat, right? But this is what I mean by intelligence, that we as a society put two and two together here and there, pretty haphazardly, but we don’t synthesize our data if it’s not in our interest to do so.

(Data that is not in our interest, unfortunately, seems to be my calling.)

We have this data coming in, we can say we know that plants hurt, but what can we do with it? First, you gotta eat, and second, what does saying this do except hurt the ‘stop cruelty to animals’ movement, in the present circumstances, by just making it impossible to do the right thing? I’m sorry, underneath all of this, it’s 2017 and Nazi America is on the rise, the parallels won’t end, plus of course it’s not just parallels, is it?

Of course, Plants’ Rights is a ridiculous position.

If there is such a thing as moral progress, it’s coming though, is what I’m saying. Animal rights are beginning, and it means our moral circle is expanding, at least for some of us, and this is in one sense that battle, the expansion of our moral circles versus our basic us and them moral configuration. The ‘stop cruelty to animals’ movement would have animals, at least mammals, brought into our circle, make our animals part of us, and not of them, the “them” that get the dark side of our morality. All I’m saying here, is that plants remain firmly on the “them” side, and that is pragmatic of us, because again, you gotta eat something. The line between us and them has always been no more than pragmatic.

            It’s not “do plants hurt?” of course. It’s “do we worry about that?”

That isn’t different, it’s just us and them, as always, and of course that’s how it has been all the way along, in the expansion of our moral circles. Jesus, I just had the new to me and possibly racist thought that that’s what the blues are all about, clear, emotional, difficult to deny expressions of pain, an attempt to reach across the us and them barrier of race in such a way that whites have the best possible chance of seeing the pain that they do not wish to see. If the pain is out there and on record, then we can hope white folks can see the first question has been answered and answer the second question like a human being would, and say, yes, we worry about that.

Some day, God willing, we can ask the question does there have to be a “them?” We are running this planet, we could in theory be managing things as though it were all us, and doing what we can to lessen cruelty generally, for us, for all of us, and for all of them, who are going to be us someday.

Abusewithanexcuse.com. Your best online source for knowledge that hurts your feelings and you really can’t use.

Sorry.

 

Jeff

Sept. 5th., 2017