Humanity Good, Institutions Bad? Not so simple. Evil Rule (Pluto-Cracy) is a fundamental consequence of human nature, amplified by civilization.
In “Human Kind“, 14th October 2015 George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th October 2015, suggests that:“Fascinating new lines of research suggest that we are good people, tolerating bad things.”
Sounds good. It’s very self-congratulatory: defining oneself as “on the left”, “liberal”, etc. has much to do with self-satisfaction about what a great human one is. I sent the following comment:
“Saying that “people are good, while tolerating bad things” is an ineffective morality. The crux, indeed, is the moral nature of institutions, controlled by a few, rather than whether humans are kind or not.”
That observation of mine was censored, as all my comments to Monbiot in the Guardian are. Human kind? Thus Monbiot readers’ minds are kept safe from my dreadful influence (lest readers flee the Guardian, and starts reading my site?).
Meanwhile in the terror war occupation in Israel, in a few days, more than 40 young Palestinians got killed. One by one. Human kind? If something looking like a Palestinian moves, it gets shot. Some Jewish Israelis got actually shot because other Israelis thought they looked like the enemy (hey, they are all supposed to all be Semites! One very blonde beauty with very long hair who happened to be an Israeli soldier shot dead a Palestinian youth who may have pricked her: she is OK, don’t worry).
Cephalopods are surprisingly intelligent. They even use tools (the definition of Bergson of man as Homo Faber, Homo Artisan-Of-Hard-Materials is to be questioned). However, cephalopods experience short, brutish, asocial lives, and that boxes in their intelligence. This demonstrates that fully-dimensioned intelligence is social, and, in particular, cultural.
Superior intelligence is not just about the individual, it’s about the collective. Our biosphere, our part of the biosphere, is collectively intelligent (somewhat as in the movie Avatar).
Before I quote the interesting part of Monbiot’s article (which mainly quotes others), let me re-iterate my main thesis on altruism and love:
All advanced brain animals have to love, love enough to raise the young. To say love dominates, is saying we have brains grown with culture. It’s an important thing to say. And it explains the experiences Monbiot mentions.
Compare to the poignant fate of cephalopods, whose bright intelligence starts from scratch, with no culture, whatsoever. Cephalopod intelligence shines brightly, and quickly peters out, in a flurry of new born eggs.
So, the difference between us and squids is that we are adorned with philosophers, and other thinkers. The scorn Monbiot heaps on them is neither kind, nor wise, not to say arrogant, coming from someone with a simple journalist background (and it shows!).
“A review article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology points out that our behaviour towards unrelated members of our species is “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals”. While chimpanzees might share food with members of their own group, though usually only after being plagued by aggressive begging, they tend to react violently towards strangers. Chimpanzees, the authors note, behave more like the Homo economicus of neoliberal mythology than people do.”
That is not just a funny joke, but a deep observation, that traders are just enraged chimps. However, to view chimpanzee behavior as typical of other animals is erroneous. Chimpanzees are half-savannah animals. I saw one once in an area with small, very small, and sparse trees, and the first serious forest was weeks of travel away. Not surprisingly, he was acting fiercely and dangerously, in an area roamed by lion prides. Lions having a look at him, won’t try to come close: he shook an entire small tree he was hanging from, and swung away, with incredible power and speed, after flashing his four inches canines.
Thus Monbiot go off the deep end with chimpanzees. Here is a more balanced view: humans keep much in common with chimpanzees. They both descend from common ancestors (who may have been more Homo like than Chimp like: we don’t really know, however fossils, and logic, point in that direction).
“Emotionally and socially, the psychology of chimps is very similar to humans,” says famous primatologist Frans de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta (a Dutch who started his famous observations in the Netherlands; universities in the USA have more money).
For instance, de Waal noted, chimps have shown they can help unrelated chimps and human strangers at personal cost without apparent expectation of personal gain, the sort of selfless behavior often naively claimed as unique to humans. They also display culture, with groups of chimpanzees socially passing on dozens of behaviors such as tool kits, and methods from generation to generation that are often very different from those seen in other groups. There are basically as many Chimpanzee cultures as chimpanzee tribes (and that’s thousands).
“The big difference I see going for us is language,” de Waal said. “They can learn a few symbols in labs, but it’s not impressive in my opinion compared to what even a young child can do. They don’t really symbolize like we do, and language is a big difference that influences everything else that you do — how you communicate, basic social interactions, all these become far more complex.”
Mathematics is, first of all, a language, remember.
The hyper aggressivity of Chimpanzees is related to their evolution: “They don’t like cooperating with strangers, that’s for sure,” de Waal said. Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham suggested this pattern of genetic (so to speak) violence may have been part of humanity’s legacy for millions of years. Yet, de Waal observed that based on what the canines of Ardipithecus suggest, “chimpanzees may be specialized in that regard [hyperviolence]. It’s only with the special recent human conditions of settlement and agriculture that gave us the incentive to worry about wealth, leading us to become warriors that way.”
This is close to my thesis: EVIL RULE (“Plutocracy”) was made possible by civilization. Before that it was just Demonic Males. Demonicity plus civilization = Evil Rule.
Compare de Waal’ subtlety with Monbiot’s imbalanced enthusiasm characteristic of the journalist he is:
“Humans, by contrast, are ultra-social: possessed of an enhanced capacity for empathy, an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others, a unique level of concern about their welfare and an ability to create moral norms that generalise and enforce these tendencies.
Such traits emerge so early in our lives that they appear to be innate. In other words, it seems that we have evolved to be this way. By the age of 14 months, children begin to help each other, for example by handing over objects another child can’t reach. By the time they are two, they start sharing things they value. By the age of three, they start to protest against other people’s violation of moral norms.”
Altruism is shown by nearly all advanced animals, because that’s how intelligence is grown. Thus, it’s not about material rewards. On board (so to speak) systems reward altruism intrinsically. Monbiot again:
“A fascinating paper in the journal Infancy reveals that reward has nothing to do with it. Three to five-year-olds are less likely to help someone a second time if they have been rewarded for doing it the first time. In other words, extrinsic rewards appear to undermine the intrinsic desire to help. (Parents, economists and government ministers, please note). The study also discovered that children of this age are more inclined to help people if they perceive them to be suffering, and that they want to see someone helped whether or not they do it themselves. This suggests that they are motivated by a genuine concern for other people’s welfare, rather than by a desire to look good. And it seems to be baked in.
Why? How would the hard logic of evolution produce such outcomes? This is the subject of heated debate.”
The heated debate is happening because the sort of view I defend (the view in Avatar, that of global intelligence, one could say) is progressing against the very reduced Survival-Of-The-Fittest approach.
The difference between us and squids is that we are adorned with philosophers, and the scorn journalist such as Monbiot heaps on them is neither kind, nor wise, not to say arrogant.
Humans are intrinsic scientists and philosophers, not just lovers and warriors. To try to say they are all one, and not the others misses the big picture.
The left, by insisting that humans are kind, underestimates the evil institutions are capable of. Institutions, although moral persons, in the legal sense, are not held back by human ethology in the behaviors they are capable of. (Nazism provided with plenty of example of that: even the very worst Nazis, including Himmler or Eichmann, found really hard to go all the way, and could do it, only by using institutional tricks, making institutions, Nazi institutions to force them to do what even them found too hard to do.)
Let’s not underestimate institutionalized evil. It has no bounds, whatsoever. Nazism, or Stalinism, were not about just a few very bad guys, they were about evil institutions, including a Prussianized army (in contrast to a human one). Let’s build human kind institutions that cannot not be commandeered by just a few (as our entire democracy-through-representatives regime gangrening the West, not to say the world, is).
Thus, to progress morally will mean to progress in the intelligence of the institutions we will set-up to rule over us. Hence moral progress will be a consequence, and only a consequence, of scientific and technological approfondissement (deepening).