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Evolution and individualism

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I've been reading the Paleo diet book and it has gotten me thinking about the wider implications. What impact has our evolution and Paleolithic past had on our psychology and on our social and political behaviours? We know evolution has an effect on our brain - for instance our tendency to find faces in obscure patterns. Is it unreasonable to suggest it may have affected the way we approach individualism/collectivism too?

The way I see it, during our evolution, we sought the protection of the group, the family, the tribe. Our survival was under threat, from starvation, from other animals and from other human tribes. The collective helped the species to survive. However, we have evolved beyond that, we are capable of initiating a rights-protecting government - yet we are still the same creatures, biologically indistinct from our paleolithic ancestors who needed the comfort of the tribe, our brains have not changed. Humans still create in-groups and out-groups, collections of "people who are like me" and "those who are not like us." The tribe has gone in the West, but people form many collectives whether based on nation, sporting team, musical preference, religion, sub-culture etc, the collective impulse is still strong - groupthink afflicts even the brightest minds. Obviously I am not a determinist, we have developed the power to reason, we can overcome these collective impulses by making ourselves aware of them and acting logically, I am just not sure a sufficient number of people are willing to listen to reason, instead they are guided by primitive emotions to content themselves with bromides and floating abstractions about 'society' and 'fairness' as they unwittingly seek the safety and comfort of the collective.

Is this a possibility?

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...I am just not sure a sufficient number of people are willing to listen to reason, instead they are guided by primitive emotions to content themselves with bromides and floating abstractions about 'society' and 'fairness' as they unwittingly seek the safety and comfort of the collective.

Is this a possibility?

Yes.

"Prehistorical men were physically unable to survive without clinging to a tribe for leadership and protection against other tribes. The cause of altruism’s perpetuation into civilized eras is not physical, but psycho-epistemological..."
“Selfishness Without a Self,”
Philosophy: Who Needs It
, 50 (via Lexicon "Tribalism" heading)

Those who do not choose to think will invariably follow the heard. Like you said though, this doesn't mean they are incapable of choosing to think.

Edited by freestyle
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I'm not sure why you would say there's any kind of collective impulse. Your survival is pretty much always under threat from starvation, other animals and potentially other human tribes. However, the issue only really comes in when either formal or informal rules are introduced. What do you do when the other guy (or group) has a giant rock and threatens to kill you with it if you don't do what he says? Your options would be to conform, die, or form a bigger group with even bigger and badder rules. Since we're speaking of a time when intellectual development of humans was quite primitive certainly absent of any concept of rights, it's highly likely that you'd go with conforming, however it would be interesting to figure out why bigger and badder groups are formed. As time goes on, certain standards are taught from generation to generation, perpetuating collectivism from a time before rights were ever understood. It becomes normal or "common sense" to believe many ideas probably because without the support of a group - which is generally more intimidating than a single individual - it is harder to get what you need to survive. Consider for example the Athenian practice of ostracism, where a vote was held and the person who received the majority votes was expelled from the city for 10 years. While this is an extreme example, losing some benefits when removed from a group may be harmful. For a non-thinking person, it is a little safer to just conform, and hopefully maintain some individuality in secret.

Edited by Eiuol
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Obviously I am not a determinist, we have developed the power to reason, we can overcome these collective impulses by making ourselves aware of them and acting logically, I am just not sure a sufficient number of people are willing to listen to reason, instead they are guided by primitive emotions to content themselves with bromides and floating abstractions about 'society' and 'fairness' as they unwittingly seek the safety and comfort of the collective.

I had to laugh at this a little. I suggested something similar to this in chat once, evolutionary hypotheses about human behavior, and was called a determinist and all other manner of nasty things.

That aside, from what I know of conflict in the social species, including ours, this is the scenario. Social living imposes a cost on the organisms that engage in it, so if it's maintained over time there has to be some benefit(s) that exceed the cost. Defense against predators, warmth, ease of finding a mate, etc. are some of these possible benefits. But the thing is, once a species becomes social, the possibility of receiving aggression from herdmates goes up dramatically. In more cognitively complex species, such as primates, this leads to a rather impressively complicated social milieu of alliances, coalitions, and nasty group conflicts (for example, the matriline structure found in rhesus macaques).

To extend this metaphor to humans, we are an obligately social species, but not because of our total inability to cope with natural hazards on our own. Consider that a man can survive out in nature alone if he knows what he's doing and is relatively able-bodied. One can cope with the vagaries of the external world by oneself, if perhaps not very well. What one can't prevent, at least without extreme stealth and the paleolithic equivalent of a castle made out of booby traps, is being ganged up on and killed in one's sleep by a group of other people. In other words, the evolutionary and historical evidence seems to point to collectives primarily arising and being maintained as a defense against other collectives. The ingroup-outgroup dynamic arises because it doesn't matter how you feel towards the outgroup, they are likely to kill you if they can, so your only defense is to have a group yourself that's big enough to handle them. It sucks if your tribemates oppress you, but you need them, because otherwise a different collective will kill you or make you their bitch (I'm not being sarcastic, in the case of females that is often what happens).

Rand was perhaps perceptive beyond her time, and certainly beyond the contemporary state of the social sciences, when she said that civilization was mostly the freedom from your neighbors, the freedom to have a private life. Only with an impersonal, institutional state can one finally escape the necessity to band together with one's neighbors to avoid being supplanted by a more well-organized group. Observe the situation today in places without governments. People have to band together by things like common ethnicity, language, customs, etc. just to avoid a bigger, badder gang subjugating them. Also observe the state of international politics. If you look at each sovereign nation as a "person", then world politics seems to approximate a Hobbesian "state of nature". If one wants to do right, one has to have might enough to stand up for it. It wasn't right for Nazi Germany to annex Poland, but what could Poland do about it? Not much. So coalitions form around the strongest states and spheres of influence develop.

For all their attendant irrationality, humans are actually darn good at making the correct decisions given their context or immediately past contexts, even if they don't do so consciously or by the proper epistemological methods. It seems "tribal" man can cope with reality in spite of himself. He can just never do it as well as people committed to rationality.

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That is a good overview, themadkat.

I especially appreciated the point about "once a species becomes social, the possibility of receiving aggression from herdmates goes up dramatically."

One more reason for individualism - and volition, and Capitalism.

Yes, she got it so right: "The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe; civilization is the process of setting man free from men. Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy."

Of course, with pure Capitalism we can live within a beneficial structure, but simultaneously outside of it, in privacy.

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