Sunday, May 24, 2015

The "Genes of Culture" In Civilization

Van Gogh: "Ward of Arles Hospital"
I. The Evolution of Culture

How is the evolution of culture different from the evolution of individuals?

We don't miss a beat or a step when the notion of individual people having genes is discussed.

But that is not so when it comes to the "genetic make-up" of a culture.

The reaction to that would be "how could a society, culture, or civilization have genes" except within individuals of that culture?

That is a fair question.

We are not talking about adding up the unique, physical genes of all the individuals to thereby derive the overall quantity of "genes of a culture."

No, as will be discussed below, we are talking somewhat more about epigenetics, as well as memes and memetics than we are talking about physical RNA / DNA.

That said, neither are we talking exclusively about memes and memetics, because group dynamics are often talked about in terms of culture and observable characteristics swirling within that culture (see e.g. Comparing a Meme Complex to a Cultural Amygdala, Comparing a Group-Mind Trance to a Cultural Amygdala).

II. Where Do We Observe It?

A reviewer noticed that sometimes it can be a bridge too far to try to equate or link individual genetic dynamics to the dynamics of a group/culture:
But for the same reason that the book has a near-flawless takeoff, it crashes in the end. The way that Trivers structures the text requires that he zero in on a concrete example within each chapter’s more general subject. For biological concepts, this strategy makes the reading highly accessible.

But it backfires when Trivers uses it to apply his theory of self-deception in the areas of war, religion, and false historical narratives. These subjects are too broad, and his links to self-deception too tenuous, to be compelling. By having such specificity, Trivers pigeonholes his arguments and greatly simplifies issues that are not as black-and-white as he claims.
(Review of Folly of Fools, by Robert Trivers). It is difficult to build a bridge across that gap between individual, physical genetics and some of the troubling behaviors of groups.

That is why there are other "takes" on that same book and its theme: (Academia Edu, Deceit by Trivers, Deception, Is Trivers Deceiving Himself?, Trivers Wikipedia, Trivers von Hippel, evolution of self-deception).

One thing is for sure though, when self-deceit becomes a part of culture, it goes all the way to the bone:
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.

The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
(American Psychological Association Ok With Torture). It is a bit disconcerting when the groups responsible for watching for, identifying, and then treating a social malady are overcome by that very social malady (Minds in Tumult, Presidential Psycho Team).

One of the dangers of the type of hypothesis that seeks to find and analyze the maladjusted behavioral dynamics inside the culture of a particular group, is a type of group-think influenced by the notion of "collective guilt" (The Psychology of the Notion of Collective Guilt).

Individuals can be slandered by it even though they are not individually guilty of the wrongs of the group itself (e.g. "all Islamic believers are evil therefore it is ok to torture or mistreat any of them").

It is important to remember that groups are composed of individuals who can and do differ, and therefore must also be considered in that light, i.e., as individuals as well being considered as group members.

Individuals in a group could metaphorically be considered as the individual genes of the group, which we know do have different characteristics.

It is clear, then, that as a preliminary matter we ought not paint everyone with the same group-brush merely because they are members of a group.

This is especially so when we now know the importance of epigenetics (One Man's Junk Gene Is Another Man's Treasure Gene?, The Uncertain Gene - 11, On The Origin of Genieology).

III. Where Does The "Cultural Deceit-Gene" Originate?

The phenomenon of deceit also happens way, way down in the unseen, tiny realm of individuals in groups which, for the most part, help us at every level of the ecosystem on Earth.

I am talking about a veritable universe of microbes and viruses: "there may be a hundred million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe"  (The Real Dangers With Microbes & Viruses).

At a higher level than RNA and DNA, individual microbes or even groups of them can go crazy to become pathogens.

But, they can also return to sanity (Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen, 2).

Perhaps, by sophisticated honesty via communication they can even be separated from the misbehavior which uses deceit as a technique of survival (On The Origin of Propaganda, 2).

IV. The Toxins of Power Are Hidden

Scientists differ on the dynamics of deceit, and whether deceit is a good thing or a bad thing for society, because for one thing the origins of deceit are hidden.

Some of the hidden details may be because the origin of maladjusted viruses and microbes is part of the history that was made well before humans came to be (Are Microbes The Origin of PTSD?).

In other words, are the catastrophes of history, which cause mass extinctions or mass damage to biological organisms, a source of pathogenic behavior (What Did The Mass Extinctions Do To Viruses and Microbes?)?

V. Conclusion

We need to resist allowing either our education or our knowledge to degenerate into a cultural trance which can morph into mob psychology.

A mob psychology that can threaten our very civilization (Why Sea Level Rise May Be The Greatest Threat To Civilization, 2).

The following video is a brief discussion of collective guilt by association: