“Selfishness” versus “altruism” in ecology, evolutionary biology, economics, game theory, moral philosophy. Group selection, cancer, eusociality. Possible grounding Genetic, social, individual and other kinds of learning, and their interactions. Levels of selection and inheritance (group/gene/individual/whatever). Ethnic signifiers.
See also altruism, evolution, getting along.
Martin Sustrik summarises Herrmann, Thöni and Gächter in Anti-social punishment
There’s a trope among Slovak intellectual elite depicting an average Slovak as living in a village, sitting a local pub, drinking Borovička, criticizing everyone and everything but not willing to lift a finger to improve things. Moreover, it is assumed that if you actually tried to make things better, said individual would throw dirt at you and place obstacles in your way.
I always assumed that this caricature was silly. It was partly because I have a soft spot for Slovak rural life but mainly because such behavior makes absolutely no sense from game-theoretical point of view. If a do-gooder is stupid enough to try to altruistically improve your life, why go into trouble of actively opposing them? Why not just sit safely hidden in the pub, drink some more Borovička and wait until they are done?
Well, it turns out that the things are far more complex then I thought.
The Tragedy of the Commons in a Violent World by P. Sekeris (2014) discusssed at A Fine Theorem.
Kevin Simler, Minimum Viable Superorganism casts the problem of cooperation outside the family unit as the setting up of a “prestige economy”, with some nice phrases to support his case. It’s missing things you’d need for a comprehensive account of human cooperation (altrustic punishment, generalised reciprocity) but has some excellent phrases
Robin Hanson, in Foragers and farmers, does not turn such a fine phrase, but has some other interesting axes to vivisect cooperation along.
But when the group was stressed and threatened by dominators, outsiders, or famine, the collective view mattered less, and people reverted to more general Machiavellian social strategies. Then it mattered more who had what physical resources and strength, and what personal allies. People leaned toward projecting toughness instead of empathy And they demanded stronger signals of loyalty, such as conformity, and were more willing to suspect people of disloyalty. Subgroups and non-conformity became more suspect, including subgroups that consistently argued together for unpopular positions.
Germs and cooperation
Is culture just a side effect of the struggle to avoid disease? A cute hypothesis told popsci-style:
If you were to live in such a pathogenically diverse place, you and your family would likely develop a resistance or immunity to your local parasites. But that defense might be useless if you were to move in with a group just a short distance away—or if a stranger, carrying a foreign pathogen load, were to insinuate himself into your clan. In such places, then, it would be important for neighboring groups to be able to tell the difference between “us” and “them.” With that thought in mind, Thornhill and his colleagues made a prediction: that regions with a balkanized landscape of localized parasites would in turn display a balkanized landscape of localized customs and conspicuous cultural differences among human populations—dialects, unique religious displays, distinctive art and music, and the like. While there is much more research to be done, early findings suggest that—particularly when it comes to the development of local languages and religions—pathogen stress does appear to spawn cultural diversity.
The confounding should be clear in this one, but I suppose it merits looking into. I am curious about the correlations they found, even if I am a priori skeptical of the causation that is their hypothesis, testability thereof etc.
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