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Ch. 10: The Hive Switch 
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 Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
Ch. 10: The Hive Switch



Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:20 am
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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
I'm finding that Jonathan Haidt is particularly strong on the applications of the theoretical findings he presents. If it isn't obvious, I think he's written a stellar book, the best one touching on my favorite subject, human nature, that I've read.
(A sidenote: Haidt will be one of the speakers at the TED X Midatlantic in Washington DC, Oct 26-27, that I'm lucky to be able to attend.)

In "The Hive Switch" he gives us the payoff for our long development as a species subject to competition with other groups. Although we are pretty thoroughly chimp via the "relentless competition of individuals with their neighbors," making us "descended from a long line of winners in the game of social life," we are also, via our "groupish nature," similar to bees "in being ultrasocial creatures whose minds were shaped by the relentless competition of groups with other groups." I haven't made my mind up about the group selection controversy, but I think that to some extent what Haidt wants us to accept about our hivish nature doesn't depend on the validity of group selection.

Haidt calls us "conditional hive creatures" in order to convey that we do have a hive switch that sometimes--varying in frequency of use between individuals in a society and between whole societies--is activated. Haidt makes it clear that he believes the healthiest societies, with the happiest individuals, are those composed of countless hives, so that pure individualism (the ideal of most rationalists) is tempered by the greater selflessness of group belonging. Our social capital consists largely of these active groups, whether they be recreational, social, professional, church, cultural, etc. He is not merely putting a label on a human trait, but describing a genetic adaptation "for making groups more cohesive, and therefore more successful in competition with other groups."

The feeling we have when our individuality diminishes and our group sense takes over comes in different intensities at different times. Some of us are naturally more prone to having these experiences than others are. At its most intense, the feeling rises to a level that Haidt calls religious, when a sense of awe overcomes us and we are no longer aware of our separate existences. I can't say that I've ever had, or let myself have, this kind of ecstatic experience, since my instinct is to hold myself back from something I see as a kind of surrender--but I don't doubt that others do have it. The surprising thing about this hive switch is that it developed as a feeling of complete union with our social group, but now it can be triggered even when we are alone in nature.

The key elements are "vastness (something overwhelms us and makes us feel small) and a need for accommodation (that is, our experience is not easily assimilated into our existing mental structures; we must 'accommodate' the experience by changing those mental structures)." Awe is the emotion perhaps most closely associated with the hive switch. It explains why people such as Emerson and Darwin have described nature in such spiritual terms. The very word 'spiritual' signifies that when the hive switch is on, we have moved to the level of the sacred, from the level of the profane. These words--sacred and profane--are terms that first referred to religion, but Haidt applies them to very secular situations as well. I suppose that some people watching in person or participating in the Olympics had this moving sense of experiencing the sacred.

It isn't surprising to learn that less technologically advanced cultures make much greater use of the hive switch than do technologized, mainly Western cultures, the ones Haidt has designated with the label WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic). He tells us how the Europeans who first visited the cultures of the new world were aghast to see the native peoples abandoning themselves to ecstatic dancing and drug-induced visionary experiences.

In case you're wondering about the dark side of the hive switch, particularly whether it can be harnessed by fascist-leaning leaders to control populations, Haidt has thought of that. The key is that hivishness be dispersed throughout a society rather than centrally commanded by an authority. Part of Haidt's own journey has been from a purely rationalistic, individualistic perspective, to a more emotional, communal perspective than covers more of the other moral foundations than just harm/care and fairness/cheating.

Haidt wrote his first book on the subject of happiness (The Happiness Hypothesis). He concludes in this chapter:
Quote:
When I began writing The Happiness Hypothesis I believed that happiness came from within, as Buddha and the Stoic philosophers said thousands of years ago. You'll never make the world conform to your wishes, so focus on changing yourself and your desires. But by the time I finished writing, I had changed my mind: Happiness comes from between. It comes from getting the right relationships between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself.


Long post, but it's a rich subject.



Last edited by DWill on Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:39 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
Related to this topic, I find it amusing when I watch people get angry or ecstatic while watching their favorite sports teams. Of course, that makes me some kind of WEIRD elitist.

I have to admit, although I'm not much of a sports fan, I did find myself emotionally invested in watching some of the Olympics. Not sure how much that applies though, I think it's more the admiration of the hard work of the athletes and sympathizing with the agony of defeat, rather than a tribal thing -- I didn't care so much that they were American.

By the way, great job as discussion leader DWill.



Thu Aug 16, 2012 9:15 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
Haidt uses sports as a stand-in or virtual equivalent for religion in the next chapter. Loyalty or fanaticism about sports teams does show how much people need to find something in which to invest loyalty and make that team better, in their minds, than some other team, on a completely arbitrary basis. But we're not supposed to think about it, I guess. I can see the point of becoming emotionally involved in a local high school team, where you might actually know some of the players, or they might even be your kids, but beyond that, what does it matter that a bunch of players from all over the country or even from other countries, play for a university or professional team? It's usually not even the case that the players themselves care much about who they play for; they just go for the best money if they're pros. Not to be too judgmental about this, though. People just have fun being fans (fanatics).

The thing about WEIRD morality I keep coming back to is that WEIRD people are at least the most apt to realize that there are different ways of putting morality together, and therefore they can be more liberal and less judgmental about other moral matrices than non-WEIRD people are likely to be. I recall that article you found, where the author says that people who think we're crazy even to have to ask whether the harmless incest scenario is right or wrong, are actually judging us as they react this way. It seems to be more of a one-way street for them, in which their morality is the right one. Because they're not well educated, they never learn that there's a whole big world out there, and more than one way to be moral. This raises the dreaded R-word--relativism. I think relativism needs somebody to speak up for it, though. Haidt says that he is not a relativist, but don't you have to be something of a relativist to have an enlightened view of morality?



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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
The word mindfulness comes to mind as I read these last two posts. It's amazing what we can learn about human nature by simply noting without judgment the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are generated in our own minds as we experience our world.
Like Dexter, I'm not much of a sports fan. But I do recall very vividly going through the varying stages to being one when I lived in Toronto in the late 80's when the Blue Jays were flying high and winning pennants. Because I was dabbling in meditation and Buddhism at the time, I was more aware of the changes going on in my head than I would normally have been. I do remember smiling a lot to myself about those changes.

I went through a similar experience, on a much smaller scale, during the Olympics. While watching an event, I would objectivity note my feelings toward the athlete and the country he/she represented and how I felt about them winning or losing. There are many dimensions to this but, as you might expect, I did support the athletes from my country for all events .... But not always to the same extent. If I had invested more time in an athlete, i.e. Learning history and personal information, talking about the athlete with friends etc., my support would be that much stronger. This might all sound obvious as a description, but it does provide some insight when you can maintain a level of this kind of awareness in real time.



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Fri Aug 17, 2012 9:43 am
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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
I'm recovering, but I've been a fanatic of teams as well. It's very strange to feel your emotions and even your outlook on the world going up and down according to whether your team has scored enough points or runs. I suppose we've made these players we don't even know a part of our families, so just as we would with our family, we feel the pain and joy of our team. Plus, we feel we are powerful when our team wins, and we feel less so when it loses.



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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
I found this chapter fascinating, more for the descriptions of people losing themselves in groupishness than for the efforts to make it into science. As I was reading about muscular bonding I was thinking of African dance and of the experiments which found babies more sympathetic to adults who bounced in time with them. As I was reading about collective effervescence I was thinking about the Holy Spirit in the early church (and in the Pentecostal church today, which has strong African-American roots). Collective ecstasy was the sign to the early church of the overturning of the order of the world, so that there would be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Slave nor Free, neither Male nor Female (Galatians 3:28). It gave them direct evidence that we are all one.

Yet Haidt works very hard to put it into an evolutionary framework, with group selection being the only basis he can think of for such a switch to be around. Maybe, but maybe not, too. There is evidence that such ecstatic practices are based in the same right-brain processes that meditation taps into (now, isn't that incredibly ironic?) and that they are experienced as mystical openings to others, or melting of the boundaries between me and others (or even me and the universe). So yeah, maybe it is all about groupishness, but maybe it's about empathy, or about short-circuiting selfishness, or other processes which may or may not have been selected for. I mean, it's possible for example that they work within mind and culture to solve other problems (think of Ehrenreich's "Dancing in the Streets" telling about men and women cross dressing or flirting wantonly) that most likely have no connection to solidarity against rival groups.



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Fri Mar 27, 2020 11:54 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
National emergency is another way that the hive switch is activated, or can be. In the current crisis, we're told that we have a common enemy around which to unite, and while there has been some of that, it hasn't been enough to overcome our divisions. Leaders are important, and if they continue to carry messages of division, then an opportunity has been lost.

All of the instances of loss of individuality that Haidt mentions are different; so I would agree with you that saying they all share the same origin in natural selection can be questioned. I suspect that with the "awe in nature" loss of self, something different is going on than in the experience of uniting with other human beings. The first isn't "hive" at all, in my thinking, while the second is.
Quote:
Yet Haidt works very hard to put it into an evolutionary framework, with group selection being the only basis he can think of for such a switch to be around. Maybe, but maybe not, too. There is evidence that such ecstatic practices are based in the same right-brain processes that meditation taps into (now, isn't that incredibly ironic?) and that they are experienced as mystical openings to others, or melting of the boundaries between me and others (or even me and the universe). So yeah, maybe it is all about groupishness, but maybe it's about empathy, or about short-circuiting selfishness, or other processes which may or may not have been selected for. I mean, it's possible for example that they work within mind and culture to solve other problems (think of Ehrenreich's "Dancing in the Streets" telling about men and women cross dressing or flirting wantonly) that most likely have no connection to solidarity against rival groups.

If I recall correctly, Dawkins' argument against group selection was that adaptations on the individual level produce effects that may seem devised to benefit the group, but no selection at the level of a group is necessary to explain how humans formed tight social groups. The argument to the contrary seemingly rests on the assumption that groups had high permanence in our earliest years. At least we know that group selection has been less conceivable once societies became larger and more fluid in composition.

Talk about uniting into a large group, at a national level as I first mentioned, runs into problems in Haidt's opinion. That's potentially a bad hive emergence, as his example of Mussolini's exhortations shows. It's small hives within a society that tend to make the society as a whole more focused on the welfare of groups rather than of individuals only. Plus, this is like spreading the groupishness so it doesn't become destructive. More bowling leagues equals more benign social bonding. Of course, both large bonded groups and small can go bad, so I think this just speaks to the dark-side nature of our groupishness, whether in big groups or small. It's interesting that for conservatives, loyalty and authority tend to reinforce hive mentality on a national level. My hive, love it or leave it, as they might have said in the old days.



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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
DWill wrote:
In 2012: The surprising thing about this hive switch is that it developed as a feeling of complete union with our social group, but now it can be triggered even when we are alone in nature.
In 2020: All of the instances of loss of individuality that Haidt mentions are different; so I would agree with you that saying they all share the same origin in natural selection can be questioned. I suspect that with the "awe in nature" loss of self, something different is going on than in the experience of uniting with other human beings. The first isn't "hive" at all, in my thinking, while the second is.

I suspect multi-purpose capacities are the rule rather than the exception. Running can be a response to totally different situations. It may very well be that the capacity for such suppression of individual self-interest evolved as a response to the usefulness of carrying logs together, or to the usefulness of driving herds of ruminants off cliffs, or to the usefulness of killing alpha bullies. It doesn't really matter, except in some abstract scientific sense.

What matters a lot more is that we build up cultural means to steer our instincts constructively. This probably involves defenses against the Nuremberg-type "awe in authority" channeling of instincts, and ways to combine a transcendent sense of meaning with group enterprise cohesiveness in schools.

DWill wrote:
National emergency is another way that the hive switch is activated, or can be. In the current crisis, we're told that we have a common enemy around which to unite, and while there has been some of that, it hasn't been enough to overcome our divisions. Leaders are important, and if they continue to carry messages of division, then an opportunity has been lost.


Sometimes the medium is the message. I found myself utterly repulsed by CNN the other day as newscasters (with no mask on) interviewed a politician (with no mask on) all making the point that the president showed lack of leadership by refusing to wear a mask. Umm, what's wrong with this picture? Let's face it, news as entertainment thrives on conflict, and even before Fox was ginning up conflict and division as part of its appeal, CNN was appealing to our sense of self-righteousness against Reagan. These influences are not easy to throw aside, and in some sense Trump's movement was just caving to the pressure that had been building up for decades.

I don't think Trump is doing even a half-decent job of coping with the COVID crisis. I'm not confident that Obama or Bush or Clinton would have done better. My worries about the current occupant of the White House are only secondarily about competence and much more about priorities. A guy who apparently ran to burnish his brand and make it more worthwhile to put his name on hotels and golf courses, a guy who sees no point in a transparent, accountable system of checks and balances, is not someone I want having his hands on any of the levers of government.

To some extent our larger problem may be that we see no common future to invest in together. Protecting against climate disaster might seem to offer one, but that involves long-standing ideological battles and a lot of scope for procrastinating any action. It is ironic that we have trouble painting a picture of mutual gain, when we have clearly been succeeding at reducing crime rates and underage pregnancies and many other indices of social failure. It's essentially disastrous that the modern economy, built as it is on a cooperative economy, is being attacked by barbaric ideologies of divide and conquer. As if conquest had anything to do with comfort and liberty these days.

DWill wrote:
If I recall correctly, Dawkins' argument against group selection was that adaptations on the individual level produce effects that may seem devised to benefit the group, but no selection at the level of a group is necessary to explain how humans formed tight social groups. The argument to the contrary seemingly rests on the assumption that groups had high permanence in our earliest years. At least we know that group selection has been less conceivable once societies became larger and more fluid in composition.

Yes, I am pretty agnostic about group selection. I rather suspect that group success developed memes of cultural practice much faster than it developed biology of cooperativity. Did that "select" for cooperativity? Does it really matter? I mean, if I was trying to sell research based on the idea that morality is mostly biological instinct, I would want to argue that group selection is really, really important.

I take Haidt's interest in and support for group selection to be in good faith, and I certainly think he makes an intriguing case for its importance, but I still think memes shape our future much more than our genes do. I suspect that the capacity for speech (which quite probably followed a genetic switch toward groupishness, but may never have required selection by survival rather than by sexual selection) was the only needed change to set in motion a truly revolutionary path toward cooperation, division of labor, and eventually industry.
DWill wrote:
Talk about uniting into a large group, at a national level as I first mentioned, runs into problems in Haidt's opinion. That's potentially a bad hive emergence, as his example of Mussolini's exhortations shows. It's small hives within a society that tend to make the society as a whole more focused on the welfare of groups rather than of individuals only. Plus, this is like spreading the groupishness so it doesn't become destructive. More bowling leagues equals more benign social bonding. Of course, both large bonded groups and small can go bad, so I think this just speaks to the dark-side nature of our groupishness, whether in big groups or small. It's interesting that for conservatives, loyalty and authority tend to reinforce hive mentality on a national level. My hive, love it or leave it, as they might have said in the old days.
I listened to the Audiobook of S. Junger's "Tribes" on my way across country this week, as we moved my father-in-law into our home. Junger makes a good case that we experience a sense of transcendence from group urgency. Interesting that he divides two roles of social leadership, the sachems of peacetime processes and the war leaders of war processes, but both of these are associated with pagan deities and with a transcendent sense of meaning.

Whatever the deep roots of this "Hive Switch" business, I think it would be a good idea to develop institutions more capable of giving us ways to participate in the priorities of the group, rather than just relying on political programs to "solve our problems". And an economy that drives relentlessly toward fragmentation is not making this easy.



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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
Harry Marks wrote:
DWill wrote:
National emergency is another way that the hive switch is activated, or can be. In the current crisis, we're told that we have a common enemy around which to unite, and while there has been some of that, it hasn't been enough to overcome our divisions. Leaders are important, and if they continue to carry messages of division, then an opportunity has been lost.

Sometimes the medium is the message. I found myself utterly repulsed by CNN the other day as newscasters (with no mask on) interviewed a politician (with no mask on) all making the point that the president showed lack of leadership by refusing to wear a mask. Umm, what's wrong with this picture? Let's face it, news as entertainment thrives on conflict, and even before Fox was ginning up conflict and division as part of its appeal, CNN was appealing to our sense of self-righteousness against Reagan. These influences are not easy to throw aside, and in some sense Trump's movement was just caving to the pressure that had been building up for decades.

Just on this point quickly. I've noticed lately in my favorite broadcast, "The PBS Newshour," more of the reporters trying to get bring out disagreements between, say, governors and Trump, or to encourage them to make criticisms more directly. I don't like that in news reporting. "The Newshour" I would have said was evenhanded, until recently. If Trump is going to suffer politically for his failings during the covid-19 crisis, the voters should have the say.



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Post Re: Ch. 10: The Hive Switch
I haven't quite finished the book, but I want to come back to this chapter for a couple of objections I have to Haidt's polemics.

The first is his "recommendations" for group cohesion. He comes out against recognizing differences, as if this is not at all problematic for those whose differences go "unrecognized" (in practice they are plenty recognized, but the mainstream tacitly looks the other way and pretends everyone is colorblind).

I understand the point of emphasizing what people have in common, and especially of giving prominence to groupishness around the common purpose that unites a team or company or other group. Nobody has a problem with that. But Haidt is taking it further and endorsing the proposition that differences must be taboo: we don't talk about them, we pretend that whatever some people feel is the single, only right way must be adopted by everyone else lest someone be considered "divisive." On the contrary, no one's feeling that things are "supposed to be" a certain way gets treated with special, unspoken deference. We can explain reasons and get past dominance by one culture of other cultures.

Corporate training in diversity often gets discussed as if it is about "special treatment" for people who are culturally different. But of course such a discussion proves the point that the training is needed. If respecting people despite cultural differences amounts to "special treatment" then a culture which is not the majority is automatically inferior in status.

Oddly enough, when Europeans get together with other Europeans such issues come up just as much. In particular the Northern European cultures tend to regard Latin-influenced cultures as "lax" and "anarchic" and even "lazy." So when you get both of these in the executive levels, there will be clashes and power plays and magnification of the fault lines in the office politics. And it is typically the case that one tends to be dominant over the other. But it doesn't have to be that way. Some companies (the Dutch and the Swiss, and to a lesser extent the French and Belgians, seem most commonly praised for this) manage to accommodate both and put in place conflict management that will bring out the cooperation and smooth over the differences. And if you reflect a bit about which you would prefer, the suppressed diversity model or the accommodating model, it should be obvious that Haidt's geneticism and appeal to "human nature" "as it evolved" needs to take a back seat to skill sets and communication.

Why do we have to go to all that trouble? Why not just get on with things, leaving unspoken dominance in place to avoid the hassle of having to learn to communicate over the barriers of cultural differences? Well, first of all, majority presumption of correctness is unjust. Imagine your nephews or nieces or children in a world in which China has 25 percent of the world's GDP instead of the U.S. having such, and ask yourself how comfortable you would feel with them always being wrong-footed because "Chinese ways are the right ways," and you begin to get the idea. Second, diversity really is a source of richness. Southern European cultures, for example, have an interpersonal ease and a sense of joy in life that Germans and Scandinavians could do well to learn from. Just to give an example. But most importantly, learning to think through the reasons for things, and apply them as appropriate rather than by default, is a great source of personal growth. The more we become self-aware about the presumptions we learned by imitation, the more we inhabit our own lives. As long as people feel entitled to just have things the way they expect to have them, they are caught in their own blindness.

I wish I didn't suspect Haidt of dropping that paragraph in just to please somebody pushing conservative money, but I do. Not only does he not bother to argue the issue, like he does key scientific questions, but he suddenly drops all of his former nuance and complexity to just make a controversial recommendation. And there is no way someone will convince me that a person with Haidt's many-sided awareness did not recognize that it was controversial.

The second point I want to take issue with is his statement near the end of the chapter, just before "The Definition of Morality (At Last)". He states that we should be careful about considering atheism because the first atheistic societies ever to emerge, some European nations, are also the least efficient at turning resources into offspring. I hope I have made my views clear already that the goal of "turning resources into offspring" is unreflective animal instinct (which Haidt claims to be fine with) and further, that it makes societies unsustainable (notwithstanding Robert's determination to ignore the math in hopes that we can overcome every constraint forever). In fact the values that make religion meaningful (as opposed to evolved, unreflective animal instinct) lead us to conclude that people should have choices about what values they want to live out, and that maximizing offspring only makes sense to a limited slice of humanity when they are aware of the alternative of appreciating the range of human experience and endeavor.

We have long evidence indicating that even the selfish instincts supposedly embodied in maximization of offspring actually pull in conflicting directions. People are just as attuned to gaining status for their offspring, (with women typically more sensitive to this dimension of child-raising), as to increasing the quantity. Since capital, of various types, is key to status and the opportunities of cooperating for success, and you have to divide your capital if you increase your brood, sheer selfishness alone, as it is baked into "human nature", resists the traditional value on maximizing offspring. Never accept caricatures of humanistic societies as "opposed to human nature" for choosing, family by family, to limit the average family size.

But furthermore, there is a strong correlation between "traditional family values" and subjugation of women. I could recommend Tara Westover's "Educated" if we want to read about that in graphic narrative detail. The tension between machismo individualistic values for men who want to have children as a status symbol and women's actual caring about the quality of life of the children has played out for centuries now, since quality of life became something besides identical with dominance. I think a reasonable discussion of the questions involved is unlikely to come to the conclusion that "turning resources into offspring" is a social goal that should remain unquestionably accepted. Unless the discussion is among the Taliban, of course.

Since I have gone on a bit already, I will remain brief with a salute to Haidt's conclusion to the chapter. The idea that in general we are built (evolved) to find joy in group activities and group purpose makes tremendous sense to me. I would think simple introspection would tell us this is true. And we should give attention to the phenomena that show the capability of ecstatic group "hive switches" to completely override selfish instincts and, in so doing, to give a transcendent sense of meaning to our activities. He references oxytocin levels, and that is surely a major part of it. I have very little doubt that the appeal of religion owes as much to this "hive switch" as it does to the practical value of respectable, mutually cooperative behavior.



Sat Apr 18, 2020 3:59 pm
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