King of the Forest, Part Two

Continuing . . .

And that is my thesis – that by reaching for strength, by making surviving our group conflict by way of superior violence the goal and reaching only for that, we are forever eating the seed corn, forever eating the first marshmallow. I mean, that was Dr. Strangelove, I think, the entire planet going up in a fight over the first marshmallow, surviving a fight by fighting and winning. We can’t trust each other not to do the stupid thing . . . so we do the stupid thing. What’s a response you can’t explain or control?

Genetics. Specifically, some active gene in the players, specifically, some gene with this version, the fight first version activated – activated by your Momma. By your Dad. Vicariously by all the adults by way of their deflecting children, if not directly by authorized or semi-authorized adults, teachers, preachers, coaches. To say nothing of the professionals, the doctors, the police, the guards.

Your genes, your body knows everyone else is going to take the first marshmallow – the win, and so the fight – when your mom and your dad take the first win – from you. And your genes write the lesson more or less in stone. Isn’t that right? I mean if we as children took the literal marshmallow test and grew out of taking the first one, what have we really learned to trust? Something about that the adults wouldn’t destroy their own test by reneging, perhaps. Something like object permanence, I suppose, in these circumstances, I am probably going to get more marshmallows.

OK, maybe it’s as they say, for individuals, we learn how to wait for the reward.

I think the entire paragraph, both those scenarios happen in a single person, indeed, in all of us. I think the gene gets programmed as a group function, for an aggressive default response (antisocialization), and the individual can learn the exceptions table, for within their group (pro- or simply socialization). Ah, it’s the same as last week’s blog, isn’t it, the child learns a hard binary from the magical, human only social engineering practice of the child abuse we call “discipline.”

It was my hope, my dream, and even my plan to raise my kids without ever doing that, without ever just winning battles with them, and to see them grow up and escape the marshmallow test metaphor, to see them seek something better than the wins and so the fights, but I have no results to report, of course, the world interfered with my test. I wonder if I am making this complaint now, I wonder if there is some germ of truth to my fantasy of my own mother perhaps having some gentleness with me and I can say these things because the activation of my warrior genes failed, somehow?

Highly unlikely. I’m antisocial, sometimes I lose hope and would burn the whole world down and start over. More likely, these days I think my differences with the world are a spectrum matter, some unnamed neuro-divergence on my part, and anyway there was plenty of abuse in my family. But I think it’s a theoretical possibility, again, I had hoped to arrange that for my children for real, and unabused humans, homo sapiens with the warrior genes dormant – I want to see that.

Don’t we all? I mean, wouldn’t we, if . . . ? Don’t we want to want to see that?

I wasn’t thinking about whether they would grow up “strong,” honestly, I was putting all my hopes in the “good” kind of strong, if they had all the love and support and no abuse at home, they’d be resilient, I was more concerned about their mental capacities, I feel we trade truth and so intelligence for activating the strength genes. My idea was to not threaten them and so not perhaps dull their minds with cortisol and fear, I was pretty sure they’d be brilliant. While the experiment was compromised from the start – Mom had unilateral ideas and methods – it looked like that for a while, the kids had terrific grades and such.

But yeah.

We’re stuck here, as long as strength and security are as high a goal as we are allowed to imagine, with the fantastic, unreachable goal of somehow gaining enough strength to be invulnerable to our own species’ strength, we as a group, lack the capacity to wait for the reward of peace – again, it’s almost the first thing we were taught, is not to, and no-one seems to remember there was ever another option, because spanking, because they didn’t wait for us to learn it in peace and save the relationship, they wanted the marshmallow now and didn’t seem to mind making us hate them over it, like it was all part of the plan or something.

Ouch. Damn, sometimes I feeling like Joyce, just rattling off syllables until it hurts.

Jeff

Dec. 20th., 20121

King of the Forest, Part One

The spectacular, miraculous looking ways in which the human being can be evil doesn’t require a mad Creator or a plan no human can grasp, it’s genetics. That’s magic enough.

You reach for “strength” for aeons, you will amaze the other creatures with your strength, the giraffes have been reaching for the top branches for how long, a few million years? And honestly, I don’t think they’ve been quite as obsessive about it as we have about our . . . specialty. I always say “strength” – but today, it seems like “courage” would fit better.

Because I have the Wizard of Oz playing in my head.

How?

Genetics! What makes the aurochs into a cow?

Genetics! What makes the chimpanzee human now?

Genetics! What makes the giraffe as tall as a tree or makes the salmon traverse the whole sea?

Genetics! What makes the bear smell the falling leaf?

Genetics! What makes the tiny coral a reef?

Genetics! What makes your poor belly sore? What puts the “ape” in apex predator? What do I got it, but I want more?

Genetics!

I am sorry, for what it’s worth. Ha.

It can and does look bloody miraculous, have you seen what human dog partnerships can do, the speed of the viper strike, the hi-tech looking visual and colour displays of so many creatures, birds, fish, insects? One wants to declare that anything is possible, anything at all, simply from what we can observe today!

So I’m thinking, considering all this fantastic complexity, why not perhaps something from the dark side, perhaps inabilities that are also nearly magical in their improbability, things we are incapable of that perhaps amaze and surprise us. Honestly, it’s how I feel, combatting the idea of punishment, y’all just haven’t got the software support for “no punishment,” the whole world goes blank, deer in my headlights.

I’m currently reading a scholarly work many steps above my grades and the author seems to be taking on the same thing, breaking down the urge – Achilles’ urge, in the Iliad – to do something when a bad thing has happened. It’s about how grief drives the hero to slaughter, perhaps the Iliad is already an attempt to connect those dots, and this scholar is auditing that effort, but it’s sort of the same as being unable not to punish generally, I think we’re after the same thing, the same glitch in the human code that turns every detected crime into two crimes and turns murder into more murder . . . . and this is my answer.

Genetics! What’s a response you can’t explain or control?

Genetics! When is an individual only playing a role?

Now, I know how we hear this, and no, I’m not telling you this is what you are, because of your programming, because of all that came before, I’m saying this is what you are because this is what you want to be right now, and if you’re having second thoughts, think maybe we ought to be something else, I’m telling you: go for it! All you have to do is want it – well, maybe to want the right things, we need to understand some things too. But don’t follow your heart, not this creature’s heart – that’s what we’re doing now! Don’t practice selection and epigenetic activation for the job you have, practice selection and epigenetic activation for the job you want!

Ha. Fun.

So not a static genetics, not a “you’re born that way,” genetics, and not even a “you still have the chimpanzee in you,” genetics either.

That talk is the very opposite of evolution, it tries to say nothing changes, ever, when of course chimpanzees aren’t and weren’t ever the problem, it’s us, the new guys, and our new genetics that are responsible for the world we have today. Those are evolutionary Satanic Verses, when evolution becomes some evil Nature from the past again, our narcissism gaslighting us about the old world with the new words we taught it. Evolution as “human nature,” that is a reversal, that sort of discourse never learned evolution at all, hasn’t really processed it.

No, the point is, the giraffe has been actively reaching, not remotely simply existing in some sort of conformity with its Nature. The bear’s nose brain has been growing probably since the entire creature was smaller than that part of its brain now. Evolution means time plus desire make magic. We too have been active, have been actively chasing something, wanting something too, something it seems that chimpanzees lacked, and I think popular science is all in agreement, that something was group conflict, or rather, success in/survival from group conflict, and we have chased it perhaps from Lucy the Australopithecus to today’s human being, I wanted to say to the Universal Soldier.

I’m saying the one that wins/survives the group conflict, we want to be that; we are that because that is the goal. I feel that’s what evolution means, that if a thing exists, it’s because someone wanted it, someone chose it from the options available to them. I’m saying when you want to be the warrior, you get the war; and I’m saying, the things we want get us it – again, though, there’s a disconnect, of course, a complication, in that we are not fully conscious of what we want or why we want it.

No, it isn’t new or interesting or helpful to use the new words and talk about inherence or natures or any such old thing, but to say that because it is evolution it is no-one but us, we that are in control of our changes, we that choose from options presented to us when the environment changes. We may have used it badly, that is my thesis, but it is a transformative miracle, evolution, even selection, and it has brought us to this unlikely possible ending and so it can take us elsewhere also, anywhere. Again, it looks like magic, it can take a creature anywhere, given a desire, that is perhaps better to call a direction, and time. I mean, sure, we could take more responsibility, analyse and own our desires better. The giraffes had only that, a direction – up – and they changed radically to get there, several innovations. I don’t think we can say for sure that they didn’t have other options, a change of diet or something and that they didn’t actively also choose reaching higher over other paths. Why assume creatures fight evolution, kicking and screaming into the future? Perhaps the giraffes are as proud and as “I meant to do that” about their stature as we are about our dominance.

Or, more to my sort of point, perhaps they aren’t, perhaps it is a bit of an unconscious goal, perhaps they have an unstated, limitless goal of height that none of them ever feel they live up to, not so much a point of pride as a universally experienced failure – like us and our always reached for and never fully realized “strength.” That’s how a direction feels, a journey with no destination, right?

I sort of think our short term wants destroy our long term wishes, maybe that’s why the manipulative marshmallow test struck such a chord with us, we are stuck there in a much bigger way; it’s not a demonstration of a developmental stage for a child, but a metaphor for the human condition in this sense, that as a group we tend to eat the marshmallow in front of us and do not so much engage in long term trust projects?

More about an arrested stage of societal development than individual development.

I think this next section is a digression, even a derailment of this talk, but somehow unavoidable. Wish me luck, I hope to see you on the other side.

Jeff

Dec. 19th., 2021

The Easy Route

The Easy Route

Here’s an interesting article:

https://hbr.org/2015/05/influence-people-by-leveraging-the-brains-laziness?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow

INFLUENCE

Influence People by Leveraging the Brain’s Laziness

MAY 29, 2015

Discussions of influence are almost always focused on messages and information, the assumption being that the best route to drive people’s actions is to get them to understand the course of action that is best for them and then to pursue it.

But another stream of work on influence has also noticed that the environment affects people’s actions. Over the past decade, proponents of the work described in Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have focused on small changes that can be made to the environment that have a big effect on behavior. The classic example from this work is that changing the default option from opting in to a retirement program to opting out of one can have a significant affect on how much people save.

In all of this work, though, there is still an assumption that the environment is treated as a reflection of information that should drive preferences. For instance, it’s assumed that people tend to stick with the default option because they do not know enough to change it.

This view of decision-making assumes that information is always at the core of the cognitive economy. But in fact, energy is the key currency that the cognitive system seeks to preserve. The human brain is roughly 3% of people’s body weight and yet it uses 20-25% of our daily energy supply. This energy is required to keep the brain running regardless of exactly what the brain is doing. That means that time spent thinking about a choice is highly correlated with the amount of energy consumed by the brain.

A better way to think about the role of the environment, then, is to recognize that people want to minimize the amount of time and brain energy they spend thinking about a choice and also minimize the amount of time and bodily energy they expend toward carrying out actions after the choice is made. The simplest way to do both is to simply take the actions the environment is conducive to. In other words, people are not treating the environment around them as information in most deliberative processes. Instead, they are performing the easiest actions with as little thought as possible.

So if we want to influence other people’s behavior, we must make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. Take the design of your grocery store, where impulse purchases are often displayed on the endcaps or in the checkout aisle. You’re not spontaneously purchasing those items because you have more information about those non-necessary products, but based on a combination of what the environment makes easy to do, the habits people have learned from past actions, and the results of previous deliberations about a decision.

Consider a consumer preparing to buy toothpaste. As a child, her parents used Colgate, though she tried Crest and Aquafresh at friends’ houses while growing up and saw plenty of commercials over the years. In college, when she began to make her own toothpaste purchases, she would typically search for the Colgate, but if another common brand was in easy reach, she selected that instead. A promotion that placed a toothpaste she liked in a special display would lead her to grab that as she charged through the store. She was frequently frustrated by the number of times that toothpaste manufacturers changed their packaging, making it more difficult to select one of the brands she typically bought.

In this example, none of these decisions involved significant deliberation. Instead, there were small preferences for brands based on prior exposure and a number of selections based on what was easy to do. Indeed, one thing that brands often do that blocks this low-effort behavior is to change their packaging, which forces the consumer to put in effort to find the familiar brand in an unfamiliar box.

This orientation to the environment can change or reinforce all kinds of behaviors. As I discuss in Smart Change, one of the most successful public health campaigns of the last half-century is the effort in the United States to reduce the number of smokers. One of the most important factors that decreased smoking rates among adults from roughly 50% in the 1960s to about 20% now is the environment. It is no longer possible to smoke in public buildings in most places in the United States. Some businesses no longer allow smoking on their entire campuses. This change to the environment makes an undesirable behavior

difficult.

In the workplace, there are many ways to set up the environment to drive people toward desirable behaviors. For example, many companies set up databases of prior projects and their outcomes as a way of capturing organizational knowledge. However, these databases are often difficult for employees to access and have clumsy user interfaces that make it hard for people to find what they need. To make the archives more useful, they need to be accessed quickly from people’s computers, and the user interface needs to make it easier to find past reports than it is to ask a few random colleagues if they know of any related projects.

Similarly, if your aim is to get people to schedule shorter meetings, organize the office calendar program in which the default meeting length is 15 or 30 minutes rather than an hour and needs to be adjusted to be longer if necessary. Although people will still end up scheduling a number of hour-long meetings, the need to expend energy to override the standard option will shorten many of the items that end up on people’s schedules.

Anyone interested in influence should start by focusing on the environment of the individual they are trying to affect. Analyze that environment and find ways to make desirable actions easy and undesirable actions difficult. Remember that the human cognitive system aims to get the best possible outcome for the least possible energy cost.

Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. He is the author of several books including Smart Thinking,Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership.

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Of course that is my idiocy exactly, attempting what only I and a handful of other folks the world over consider to be rational arguments in the most emotional, contentious and consensual subject possible. Of course a nudge is exactly what the UNCRC (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child) and the anti-corporal punishment movement is hoping to provide by getting governments to pass laws criminalizing the corporal punishment of children. Once that change reaches the world’s biggest empires, then I plan to try to start the next wave of humanism – outlawing the fights parents get into with their children when they’re trying to impose their non-corporal punishments.

That because, in the end, what is the difference to me if you plan, in the most dispassionate way to punish me corporally with a spanking or a beating or whether you decree a non-corporal punishment like ‘grounding’ (curfew/confinement), and wind up beating me up in the fight that ensues when I refuse? How is one a violent crime and not the other? They certainly both are when both assailant and victim are adults. Oh, Hell.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I.

Oh well, I’m home, sick with a parasite, I can’t do all the work my home and yard and employers need, so if this is all I can do right now, I’ll do it.

The thing is, what that article gives us first is, a solid, biological reason why we don’t like to think too much, so we’re all off the hook. Turns out that maybe we’re not just mean and stupid because we’re mean and stupid, that maybe it’s not so much a choice at all. Thinking too much really has had a biological cost forever. The biological cost is energy, they said, I assume it means an advantage where food is not unlimited and more energy efficient genetic lines succeed and survive better.

The costs of not thinking are not all biological, of course, and nearly impossible to measure.

Of course, the energy cost is no excuse for some of us, many of us can afford to find the calories required for conscious thought; but it does mean there’s no shame in not thinking more. It’s our evolutionary heritage, and no-one expects the whole population to swim against the current.

Having said that, it often appears that it is just those of us swimming just that direction – overthinking, thinking about something either other folks just don’t or just in a new way – that have made our species so different from all the others. Somehow, just as there are micro-climates that gardeners need to understand, there are also micro-environments within humanity – we are 90% of our environment, society is our environment now, more so than anything to do with geography or the weather – where there are eddies and back-currents, evolutionary rewards that seem contrary to the general flow. Too, somehow, we have assimilated our own outliers, and made them part of our species’ mosaic, preserving their genes and their ideas rather than letting nature simply dead-end them like one might expect – and we are more intelligent, diversified, and resilient for it. But I digress. Where were we? Energy?

My stance, my epiphany, my cause, my obsession, E., All of the above, is that we shouldn’t punish our children, ever, for anything, that the basic premise of punishment is wrong, doing things to people because they don’t like it, although it appears to provide a motivation in a good direction, unfortunately also hurts, same as abuse, and so actually takes us in the opposite direction in the long run. Punishing is a net cause of misbehaviour and crime, not a cure (I’m happy to argue about that, and if you’ve never read me or a very few other folks who say it, I know, it’s a bombshell. But I’m talking about the stance right now, talking around it, as it were, and the first point of this particular post is not to make that declaration, but to talk about that declaration. Moving on).

My wife and I raised our two girls with no punishment whatsoever, other than a few things that I’ve written about elsewhere, an iPod that didn’t get replaced for several months after losing two of them, and some MMA action between me and our second baby in the family bed on one horrible, sleep deprived night. Other than that, we never tried to train our kids, we simply followed them around to keep them safe. There was a lot of leg work, and that was high-energy work, chasing them, talking endlessly and fruitlessly to them about why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we don’t, and then cleaning up the messes when talking didn’t work. Like I say, high energy – but only for the first five years. We didn’t know what would happen. It was a pleasant, unexpected thing: parenting just started getting easier every year.

As it turned out for us, if you don’t punish, that is if you don’t commit the counter-intuitive-to-a-kid betrayal of punishment, if you don’t start hurting your kids with the very first few exploratory mistakes they make and then just fall into the trap of doing it all the time – you will never have to punish. If you can get through the first several years and wait for them to learn the language, wait until they can talk and reason with you without you trying to hurt them, they will be on your side and life will be easier for you all. I swear to God. For the normal, European-descended Canadians around us while we raised our girls it was the opposite. For them, things just kept getting harder and more contentious all through the teen years.

So, in conclusion, thinking costs energy, and we’ve evolved not to engage in it more than necessary. However, possibly new to this calculation, punishing also costs energy, also threatening our success.