Monday, 19 October 2009

Indoctrinabilty, Ideology, and Warfare

After experiencing the mind-bomb of Global Meltdown, an experience I referred to here, one of the first and most personally influential books I read in the immediate aftermath was Indoctrinabilty, Ideology, and Warfare: Evolutionary Perspectives, edited by Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Frank Kemp Salter.

[Salter was later to rock my world again with On Genetic Interests - so good I bought several copies (if anyone reading this would like to make a small donation to the BNP, Steadfast Trust, or something similar in return for an untouched, still sealed copy of the second edition send me an email and we’ll work it out). And incidentally, although it is 11 years old I would still recommend Global Meltdown to readers interested in an honest analysis of the problems caused by globalism, mass migration, the culture wars, and subsequent social breakdown. As I mentioned before it’s an academic work that quotes writers like Taylor, Brimelow and Abernethy respectfully, but it has another virtue: unlike the similarly themed Clash of Civilisations, Coming Anarchy, or New White Nationalism it is not written to persuade Euros and ‘their’ governments to act in ways beneficial to other groups (Jews in Huntington’s and Kaplan’s works, Blacks in Swain’s) but harmful to us.]

Now, back to Indoctrinabilty. Over the next few days I’ll post some of the parts most relevant to a pro-nationalist position. I think most readers of this blog that haven’t yet read Indoctrinability will perceive its quality if I name some of its contributors: Salter, obviously, but also Kevin Macdonald, Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson, J. Philippe Rushton, Lionel Tiger, and Johan M. G. van der Dennen among others. For now, here’s an extract from the introductory chapter in which the editors set out their stall.

From Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Salter (eds), Indoctrinabilty, Ideology, and Warfare: Evolutionary Perspectives (New York, Berghahn Books, 1998) pp.1-3:

Arthur Koestler once remarked that it is not an excess of aggression but of loyalty that could ruin us. And indeed it was and is up to the present the identification with values of a community, be they religious, party-political or ethnonationalistic, that have led to the most atrocious bloodshed of our history.

In particular, ethnic nationalism seems to resist attempts at suppression. Our indoctrinability, our group loyalty, and our proneness to collective aggression are phenomena deserving attention. Why this loyalty and feeling of belongingness to a group characterized by shared language, cultural practices, beliefs and other symbols of identity? And why the diversity of cultures -- why so many different ethnicities at all?

From an evolutionary point of view, the why-question aims at an understanding of the selection pressures responsible for a trait, whether a cultural practice or an innate motor pattern or disposition. We thus try to understand the function of a behavior in promoting survival or reproduction. More generally, we want to learn the ways in which phylogeny prepared us to act so as to enhance our fitness on the individual, kin, and even group level. Preparation can take the form of preadaptation, the fortuitous matching of a trait with some new environmental challenge. A case in point is natural selection at the level of groups, a concept now back in vogue after being banished from the realm of the plausible where it had been introduced by Darwin, Keith, and others. Humans’ culturally enhanced ability to discipline group members and detect free-riders can be seen as a preadaptation for group selection, in the manner formalized by Richerson and Boyd (this volume).

Since evolution is a continuing process in a constantly changing world, adaptations lag behind the changes they have to cope with. This is particularly true for the human species, which for most of its history lived in small communities where individuals knew each other personally and in which each community set itself apart from similar others, usually by occupying and defending discrete territories. There could be no sharper contrast between this primordial environment and the technologically advanced civilizations of anonymous millions organized around megacities that we have created for ourselves. This is an environment for which we are less phylogenetically adapted than the intimate hunter-gatherer band. Our attempts to culturally adapt to this new situation include experiments with a diversity of social strategies of leadership, ideologies, and economic systems. Emotionally we are well prepared for a life in small face-to-face communities. The large anonymous society and the impersonality of technical civilization creates problems.

The trial-and-error ‘learning’ by selection acting on variation, which has characterized our biological and much of our cultural evolution, is a painful process. Were we to rely on this process of ‘self organization’ as recommended by nineteenth-century Social Darwinists and the economic liberal van Hayek, the pain would continue for some considerable time. And time is running short. Due to the success of our species we have probably outbred the long-term carrying capacity of our planet, and our descendants will be caught between the anvil of limited resources and the hammer of global pollution. Oil resources appear to have comprised the booty of two recent wars, and there is a disturbingly great potential for destructive international competition over strategic minerals and living space as the developing world flexes its newfound industrial muscles.

Is it possible to imagine societal life without institutionalized dominance? Small face-to-face communities do exist without institutions, but for anonymous mass societies institutionalized dominance seems to be inevitable. In a democratic society the conditions for the application of repressive dominance must be well defined and accepted by the population. One condition is a degree of popular trust in those wielding power, combined with institutional checks and balances, including elections. Citizens expect those to whom they delegate power to use it to maintain the public goods of law and order and the regulation of the profit motive when it would lead to environmental degradation or exploitation. The trend in democratic states is towards a balance of administrative nurturance and authoritarian dominance. The demand for both is due to phylogenetically evolved dispositions, but in the anonymous society nurturance tends to have a lower priority to considerations of personal security and status competition. For those who would construct a nurturant society, special attention must be devoted to preventing the escalation of authoritarian dominance. The history of human social forms can be seen as attempts to strike a tolerable balance between authority and nurturance, a process that continues up to the present time.

Certainly we should not rely on the self-organizing tendency of institutions. Natural selection shows no mercy. If prey is abundant, predators multiply until they overshoot the carrying capacity of their resource, and a joint population collapse ensues, acting as a corrective. This allows for recovery of the prey animals and, with a little delay, of the predators, and so forth in endless tides of suffering. Booms and recessions follow this principle, and it seems as if democracy could finally endanger its existence should laissez faire be allowed to take its course. This risks an escalation of repressive dominance leading to rebellion. Do we want selection to act as a corrective in this way? Certainly not. It would hardly be appropriate for a species capable of reasoning. Surely, we are always under the scrutiny of natural selection. But we can actively seek and select the conditions under which to live, exposing ourselves to a variety of selective forces. We can learn much from nature, but its laws allow great freedom of manoeuvre over long spans of time. Wresting our destiny from the sorrows of natural selection does not avoid a degree of trial and error, but as already said above, we can combine this ability to strive for set goals with the readiness to correct mistakes in time. And this should become our second nature. We also noted that face-saving often blocks our readiness to admit error. But once we recognize this stumbling block of our heritage, we can cope with the situation.

All organisms are in search of a better world, as Karl Popper used to say. That is, all life pushes ahead, exposing itself to new selective conditions as they arise. Our species is no exception, but we have one advantage not enjoyed by any other species: we can deliberate, debate, and plan ahead and thus can set ourselves goals toward which to strive. As long as we avoid dogmatic fixations and are prepared to learn from mistakes and correct our course in time, new paths are opened up to us. We could free our future course from being too erratic and painful, while speeding the process of cultural adaptation. We are not only intellectually but emotionally prepared for such an enterprise; our nurturant dispositions are the basis of our humanitarian concerns.

Humans’ genetic outfit in many ways facilitates cultural adaptation to mass societies, but there are also innate dispositions that in particular situations hamper further development. Pitfalls may reveal themselves in certain situations if we are not aware of them. What were adaptive dispositions in the hunter-gatherer milieu can be destructive in the artificial environment of the modern state. Our striving for repressive dominance is one example. Another is our short-term thinking. All organisms throughout their history, dating back at least 2.5 billion years, have been bred for instant competition. Who won the race right now made it -- or retained options for the future. This has also bred in us a basically opportunistic, exploitative disposition that seriously hampers the development of a long-term survival ethos predicated on the fate of future generations.

In evolutionary terms, individual survival means nothing if it does not contribute to the survival and reproduction of genetically related kin. The resulting patterns of loyalty and competition have traumatized our history. Yet as far back as the historical record allows us to infer, ever since humans first reflected upon the uniqueness of life they became concerned about the sufferings imposed by war, including the sufferings of those not belonging to their own communities. Is there a chance for peace in an overcrowded world? And can a sustainable peace be compatible with the preservation of ethnic diversity? It must if we are to avoid a global repressive regime, since the human tendency to experiment with new ways of group living is pronounced. Life has always tended to diversify -- a tendency that has served as pacemaker of evolution. And after all, only through diversification has life continued and grown in richness on this planet.

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