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Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish? 
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 Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?



Fri Jun 22, 2012 12:21 am
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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
Haidt conveniently organizes the book under three major thoughts, each given a major section. The first two were "Intuitions first, strategic reasoning second," and "There's more to morality than harm and fairness." The third section is "Morality binds and blinds." In this section in general he stresses the sociality that he says was responsible for our making civilizations, and he makes the controversial claim that group selection was the means by which we became so social.

He changed my thinking about our social natures. Haidt still considers it an unsolved mystery as to why we built our complex civilizations. He wants to suggest that an infusion of super-sociality into our genes did the trick. I had always just assumed that since we have primate ancestors that were social and since socialness is common in other mammals as well as birds and insects, we're not dealing with anything special when we come to human sociality. Add language and bigger brains, and voila, a natural progression of sociality. I looked at animal groups such as chimps or penguins as being more social than humans, just because they all live in such close quarters and and interact a lot. Chimps that groom each other and forage together give the appearance of being highly cooperative. But if we specify that cooperativeness is the essential element in sociality, we might then decide that chimps and other mammals have relatively little of this quality, whereas we have it in spades. Haidt cites a chimp expert who says that you'd never see one chimp help another chimp carry a log. Haidt also views the leadership of chimps troops as not at all the same as what we mean by leadership. The leader, or alpha male, is mostly a strongman who is out to protect his privileged position in the troop. The hierarchical structure lends itself to stability in the group, but there is not much concern for the group shown by the alpha.

All this is why Haidt says we are 90% chimp and 10% bee. How did we get this groupishness that echoes faintly that of a hive of bees? To a large extent the answer depends genetic changes that made our groups more social because social groups tended to have better survival rates than other groups. That's where the theory gets sticky, as you can see by all the attacks that have been made on E.O. Wilson's latest foray into group selectionism. The chapter in this thread gives all of Haidt's reasons why Wilson is probably right (if anyone is interested in discussing them further).



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
DWill wrote:
That's where the theory gets sticky, as you can see by all the attacks that have been made on E.O. Wilson's latest foray into group selectionism. The chapter in this thread gives all of Haidt's reasons why Wilson is probably right (if anyone is interested in discussing them further).

You bet I am - just need to get to this point in the book - and hope Loudoun Co. Public Library doesn't send someone to my house to pry the book out of my hands (it is way over due :( ).



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
It probably would have taken him too far afield, but I think if he's going to challenge the consensus of evolutionary biologists on group selection (if in fact that is the consensus), he should present the counterarguments more carefully. Maybe have an appendix addressing the literature.



Thu Aug 09, 2012 6:07 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
He puts some material in the notes to the chapter that does some of what you're asking, but I'm sure a complete job would take more than that. I think at least he does present the debate in such a way that the reader can see more clearly what the stakes are. Otherwise, group vs. individual selection can seem just an academic debate. He tries to convince us that only through competition between groups, rather than competition between individuals of the same group, could we have developed our hive mentality. His analogy of the beehive to our complex hive-making in cities was striking, I thought. We faced a survival scenario similar to that of bees: territorial creatures guarding their nests (caves); having needy offspring requiring a lot of care; being under threat from other groups of the species. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, we evolved to be the ultrasocial animals we are today.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
I mentioned in the last post the stakes involved in the debate over individual or group selection. (Actually, it's not over one or the other but over whether group selection even exists as an addition to individual selection.) Haidt believes that first of all, our need for group belonging and identity and our skill at creating huge, complex groups of individuals united in a goal, is something that required continuous natural selection to reach the level that we witness today. The selection had to occur at both the individual and group levels simultaneously. Individuals who did not have group interests in mind were not as successful in passing on their genes. The groups who had more of these group-minded, cooperative individuals then gained a reproductive advantage, over many generations, over less endowed groups.

Moral systems clearly were integral to the expansion of group size, and thus of group power. When group size exceeds a certain threshold, it no longer works to rely upon the watchful eyes of our neighbors to contain the harm of selfish behavior. Haidt would specify here that the changes contributing to the construction of these moral systems were products of coevolution, cultural change leading to genetic change. We thus developed the innate mental modules upon which the moral foundations that Haidt described in previous chapters are based.

A reliance on individual selection gives us no choice but to call our groupishness, as well as our morality, a byproduct of individual selection, one that was not an adaptation at all in the neo-Darwinian (i.e, genetic) sense. Although it's true that not every trait of a creature exists because it conferred reproductive advantage, to Haidt it seems unlikely that a trait so central to our nature could be incidental. He will make a similar argument about religion, that it, too, was selected at the group level because ultimately it gave religious groups better ability to grow in population and thus in power.

Haidt seems to have really done his homework on fields that are outside his own field of moral psychology. He admits, though, that he is not an expert about any of the four exhibits he presents for the validity of group selection. He says that what he intends is simply to present the case for reopening an inquiry into group selection. The virtual ban on studying it seriously, which began in the 60s, he says is still largely under enforcement. This is starting to change, though, with a heavyweight like E.O. Wilson stepping out to champion it.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
I might have quoted Jerry Coyne on this topic already, but this is a good piece talking about group selection (in the process of bashing David Brooks):

Quote:
Let’s be clear about what biologists really know about group selection and altruism. If true human altruism has a genetic basis, it is individually disadvantageous and could have evolved only by differential propagation of groups. That’s very unlikely, since it requires that the rate at which altruist-containing groups reproduce themselves must be high enough to counteract the substantial rate at which altruism genes disappear within groups. It’s unlikely because groups reproduce much less often than do individuals! Further, once a group consists entirely of altruists, any non-altruistic genes would rapidly invade it, as their carriers reap the benefits of altruism without sacrificing their reproduction.


However, he also says the following, so maybe there is less disagreement than appears

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There is increasing realization that selection can occur in groups, that being in groups can affect how selection operates on genes, and that there can be group effects (“multilevel selection”) that influence the evolution of genes.


http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com ... -altruism/



Sat Aug 11, 2012 11:41 am
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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
Haidt doesn't appear to see us as being particularly altruistic. He's a Glauconian, so that paints him as fairly cynical about our motives. We act, usually, to get ahead or make ourselves look good. Our moral reasoning is meant to prop up our reputations rather than arrive at the truth. But because of our groupishness, we do act in the interest of our group, and sometimes we even feel our "hive switch" turned on, so that we feel totally subsumed in the group and care only about its welfare. This is different from altruism, which is more of a principled and rational act of putting others first, although at times it may look the same. Haidt therefore doesn't need to have an argument about how altruism can be selected at the group level.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
DWill wrote:
Haidt doesn't appear to see us as being particularly altruistic. He's a Glauconian, so that paints him as fairly cynical about our motives. We act, usually, to get ahead or make ourselves look good. Our moral reasoning is meant to prop up our reputations rather than arrive at the truth. But because of our groupishness, we do act in the interest of our group, and sometimes we even feel our "hive switch" turned on, so that we feel totally subsumed in the group and care only about its welfare. This is different from altruism, which is more of a principled and rational act of putting others first, although at times it may look the same. Haidt therefore doesn't need to have an argument about how altruism can be selected at the group level.


Really? That's not the impression I get from Haidt's argument. I thought that was precisely what he was trying to argue.

Caring only about the group's welfare (i.e. other individuals) seems to me what altruism is supposed to be. Wouldn't he say that either way it is not rational in the immediate self-interest sense?



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
I see your point, and the best way I might explain my statement is that the altruism that sometimes emerges from our feelings for the group is the parochial kind, not a universal, disinterested kind, according to Haidt on p. 234. But he apparently does consider this more limited type altruism, even though he doesn't spend a lot of time in the book talking about that term specifically, so you're probably right. I was also thinking that acting in the interests of the group often doesn't require any altruism at all, because we see the group's interests as identical to our own, so there's no sacrifice involved of our self-interests. Haidt makes this point, too. Is altruism necessarily a key to determining whether selection operates at a group level in humans? Individuals who were willing to cooperate socially because they found out it was in their own best interests to do that, might have been selected within the group, and they might have made the group more competitive among other groups. But that isn't what we think of as altruism. In a nutshell, Haidt doesn't equate groupishness with altruism. Both good and bad results occur because of our groupishness, whereas altruism is always a moral good, I think.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
I can't let this chapter go without mentioning a few more of the ideas that jumped out at me.

In relation to the chimp expert's remark that it was inconceivable to him that one chimp would help another carry a log, Haidt brings in the mental ability of shared intentionality, which he says is undeveloped in all animals except humans and accounted for our ability to divide labor to get things done. We needed an ability to represent mentally the intention that another human had in order to join him in any shared effort. Language is sometimes thought to be the watershed event in human cooperation, but language is after all an agreement that a combination of sounds will represent some object or action, so it couldn't have gotten off the ground without shared intentionality.

Haidt had previously talked about a "shared defensible nest" as the key prerequisite for group selection. He spins a great passage off this idea:
Quote:
If the key to group selection is a shared defensible nest, then shared intentionality allowed humans to construct nests that were vast and ornate yet weightless and portable. Bees construct hives out of wax and wood fibers, which they then fight, kill and die to defend. Humans construct moral communities out of shared norms, institutions, and gods that, even in the twenty-first century, they fight, kill, and die to defend.

We might see somewhere here an idea similar to the theory of memes. I find Haidt's formulation more comprehensive and satisfying, though.

There is a process known as self-domestication that accounts for the way the early human groups slowly changed to more socially cohesive units by selecting
Quote:
friends and partners based on their ability to live within the tribe's moral matrix. In fact, our brains, bodies, and behavior show many of the same signs of domestication that are found in our domestic animals: smaller teeth, smaller body, reduced aggressiveness, and greater playfulness, carried on even into adulthood. the reason is that domestication generally takes traits that disappear at the end of childhood and keeps them turned on for life


Although we usually talk about tribalism as a negative, Haidt sees it as the essential ingredient in our social natures.
Quote:
It may sound depressing to think that our righteous minds are basically tribal minds, but consider the alternative. Our tribal minds make it easy to divide us, but without our long period of tribal living there'd be nothing to divide in the first place. There'd be only small families of foragers--not nearly as sociable as today's hunter-gatherers--eking out a living and losing most of their members to starvation during every prolonged drought. The coevolution of tribal minds and tribal cultures didn't just prepare us for war; it prepared us for more peaceful coexistence within our groups, and, in modern times, for cooperation on a vast scale as well.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
It might not have been Haidt who mentioned it, but I have in mind a statement that voters don't always represent their individual interests; they represent the interests of their group. Or another, more favorable, way of saying this is that voters actually do care about principles, principles that they have found also existing in others, and then they acquire a certain loyalty to that group. I'm thinking of farmers hurt by Trump's tariffs but still supporting him because the short term pain will be worthwhile if Trump brings China to heel. They don't think this way only because their group does; it's their reason for belonging to the group. We might call this groupishness herd mentality, but we probably use this label only for groups we're not in ourselves.

In other cases, group belonging might be less considered and more unconsciously based, more emotional like the preference for a certain sports team. None of the players have any real connection to a fan's city; they're hired guns. But the fan still holds them in high regard and dislikes the hired guns from another city's team.

We talked about Haidt's account of the emergence of groupishness in the first go-round on this book. The chapter is largely a defense of E.O. Wilson's theory that evolution proceeds on a group as well an individual level. Or rather, it very well might. Haidt tells us he's not really qualified to make a strong assertion. Although the argument may seem academic, you can see why Haidt wants to establish our strong inclination to cooperate as not merely some by-product of language or intelligence, but as genetically incorporated into our brains. His moral foundations are ultimately based in our brains, and looking at them it's hard to imagine morality existing without a strong sense of the group. What would be the basis otherwise of the Authority, Sanctity, and Loyalty and Fairness foundations?

Shared intentionality is the key mental ability that had to evolve in humans, presumably through mutation, before moral concepts could become possible, before language could begin as well. A word "is an agreement among people who share a joint representation of the things in their world, and who share a set of conventions for communicating with each other about those things" (207).

Haidt in this chapter leavens the cynicism of the previous chapters. Our groupishness can be a force strong enough for us to act in the interest of the group even when we don't benefit individually, even when we might suffer harm. We're 90% chimp--aggressive individualists--and 10% bee--ultrasocial cooperators.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
DWill wrote:
. . . Our groupishness can be a force strong enough for us to act in the interest of the group even when we don't benefit individually, even when we might suffer harm. We're 90% chimp--aggressive individualists--and 10% bee--ultrasocial cooperators.


Where this all gets really interesting is Haidt’s imagining that something special happened about 60,000 years ago, when humans were on the brink of extinction. I have heard this elsewhere. For example, in The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond talks about our “great leap forward,” speculating that a mutation may have radically improved our capacity for language. Haidt correctly points out that conditions were ripe for rapid evolutionary change, and he makes a rather compelling case that selection on a group level may have pushed us into the realm of eusociality. Of the mammals, only humans and mole rats have made this jump, and apparently, it is something of a jump that requires many pre-adaptions to be in place first. Including, for example having a nest and a need to defend it.

Certainly E.O. Wilson makes a case for group selection in his book, The Social Conquest of Earth." Even Dawkins in his forward to the 30th Anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene seems to suggests that selection can work on different levels. Recall the “necker cube” illustration that shows there are different ways to “see” evolution. Dawkins probably meant only gene and individual, but I always assumed group selection was possible, if not rather difficult to prove. I wasn’t really aware that group selection had been "banished as a heresy in the 1970s, probably because most of the books I’ve read were published in the 1980s or later. In my limited exposure at least, group selection is not talked about much, but neither is it disparaged.

Maybe group selection isn’t really necessary for Haidt’s moral foundation theory, but as DWill says, it’s difficult to look at morality except within the context of the group.


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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
DWill wrote:
Haidt brings in the mental ability of shared intentionality, which he says is undeveloped in all animals except humans and accounted for our ability to divide labor to get things done. We needed an ability to represent mentally the intention that another human had in order to join him in any shared effort. Language is sometimes thought to be the watershed event in human cooperation, but language is after all an agreement that a combination of sounds will represent some object or action, so it couldn't have gotten off the ground without shared intentionality.
I found Haidt very persuasive on this point. And it was not the ability to represent another human's intention but the will (the motivation) to do things together, that mattered. Dogs hunt cooperatively - it isn't a linguistic process but it almost certainly involves some representation of what the other dogs are likely to do, as surely as basketball players have an inner map of what the rest of the team might do. In the case of dogs and wolves there was surely some coevolution of co-intention with abilities to signal and read the others.

Haidt gives credit to another researcher, Tomasello, (the one who observed that chimps don't carry logs together), for framing the issue that way. I think Haidt is probably right - the breakthrough was sufficient sharing of intentionality to bring language into play. After all, chimps can use language if taught - they have the capacity - but it is a plaything for them or a behavior learned to get things from humans, rather than a tool in the box.

DWill wrote:
Haidt had previously talked about a "shared defensible nest" as the key prerequisite for group selection.
I was less persuaded on this point. The people who study origins seem to like savanna origins for humans, though who knows what caves there might have been for the humanoids when shared intentionality got rolling. But on the savanna they could benefit from leopards leaving kill in trees, and that could easily involve shared intentionality.

DWill wrote:
There is a process known as self-domestication that accounts for the way the early human groups slowly changed to more socially cohesive units by selecting
Quote:
friends and partners based on their ability to live within the tribe's moral matrix. In fact, our brains, bodies, and behavior show many of the same signs of domestication that are found in our domestic animals: smaller teeth, smaller body, reduced aggressiveness, and greater playfulness, carried on even into adulthood. the reason is that domestication generally takes traits that disappear at the end of childhood and keeps them turned on for life

Quote:
The coevolution of tribal minds and tribal cultures didn't just prepare us for war; it prepared us for more peaceful coexistence within our groups, and, in modern times, for cooperation on a vast scale as well.

This is the whole deal. Our emotions domesticated as we got better and better at tasks like managing fire and organizing hunts, and the process gathered steam to where our mental capacities became a huge advantage in surviving and reproducing and making cultural things. If there were not a potential for enormous increases in productivity, the strain of supporting human brains would not have been worth it. But the productivity potential needed cultural enactment - we had to start passing on knowledge or it would not have worked. Other mammals pass on rudimentary knowledge, like how to find beehives or dig for edible roots, etc., but humans pass on complex knowledge that requires the flexibility of language to enact.



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Post Re: Ch. 9: Why Are We So Groupish?
geo wrote:
Where this all gets really interesting is Haidt’s imagining that something special happened about 60,000 years ago, when humans were on the brink of extinction. I have heard this elsewhere. For example, in The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond talks about our “great leap forward,” speculating that a mutation may have radically improved our capacity for language.

I no longer believe much in mutation as the source of advancement. What people commonly use the term for is typically a gradual process: proto-giraffes reaching higher and higher leaves, proto-beavers dragging more and more tree trunks to the water, proto-snakes getting by more and more efficiently without legs, until a niche comes together. I think I got this from Stephen Jay Gould, but it just makes so much sense to me I have trouble imagining matters waiting on a single aberration.

What kind of gradual process can we imagine leading to language? A gradual progression of ability to shape sounds combined with better and better unified goals, I suppose. It sounds like the most natural thing in the world, and surely the flexibility of brains to make mental linkages had to progress as much as the mouth parts getting more and more adapted to creating specific and subtle sequences of sounds.

geo wrote:
Certainly E.O. Wilson makes a case for group selection in his book, The Social Conquest of Earth." Even Dawkins in his forward to the 30th Anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene seems to suggests that selection can work on different levels. Recall the “necker cube” illustration that shows there are different ways to “see” evolution. Dawkins probably meant only gene and individual, but I always assumed group selection was possible, if not rather difficult to prove. I wasn’t really aware that group selection had been "banished as a heresy in the 1970s, probably because most of the books I’ve read were published in the 1980s or later. In my limited exposure at least, group selection is not talked about much, but neither is it disparaged.

I think my experience is like yours, that my earliest reading on the subject was probably from revisionists who considered sociobiologists to be interesting and largely successful, and took group selection seriously even if they had been taught to be suspicious of it.
geo wrote:
Maybe group selection isn’t really necessary for Haidt’s moral foundation theory, but as DWill says, it’s difficult to look at morality except within the context of the group.
I try to keep that in mind when I go back to Haidt's main set of ideas. He wants morality to be in-born and genetic, and up to a point I am willing to accept that. Like many psychologists he is enamored of the idea of finding "human nature" as a brute biological fact. But I keep coming back to gender relations and oversimplifications like "biology is destiny" which stood in for "a woman's place is in the home".

It was very telling that Haidt went out of his way to dis Stephen Jay Gould's observation that cultural advances rapidly outpace biological advances. He uses the domestication of foxes to argue that biology moves quickly to accommodate dramatic opportunities (an example Gould had used many, many years earlier), but treats it as though he has refuted Gould's point when all around us we are living Gould's point. Our computer gene must be mutating like crazy, not to mention our gene for typing and our gene for driving and our gene for assembly lines. Well, you get the point. Haidt may want us to think that our moral emotions are in-born and genetic, and the elephant can't be directed by the rider, but really he is selling his research and we need to take a deep breath and get our bearings.

This is not just a minor quibble, either for Haidt or for me. He is selling a story that says moral intuitions matter in a way that reason has trouble coping with. Given our current Leader of the Free World, one would have to say Haidt has an important point to make. But my point is that we have reached a stage at which either we train the elephant or we all perish together. Good if we take into account the nature of the problem, and don't just assume that convincing arguments of reason will settle the whole business of collective survival. But it's also critical that we recognize that surrendering to the intractability of moral intuitions is no less than suicidal.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
DWill
Sat Mar 21, 2020 8:53 pm
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