Date: Sept. 2, 2003
From: "Herbert Gintis"  
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Kin Selection vs. Group Selection?

At 03:14 PM 9/1/2003 -0400, Phil Roberts, Jr. wrote:
>Herbert Gintis wrote:
>> At 02:11 PM 8/29/2003 -0400, Phil Roberts, Jr. wrote: 
>>> So aren't we both in agreement with Dawkins,
>>> at least on the point that generosity and altruism are cultural inventions
>>> totally dependent on culture for their transmission?
>> I quite disagree with this.
> I think this sort of behavior is likely only to
> appear within a cognitive environment typical of an evolved culture
> and, even then, probably limited to mature individuals who have
> been properly inculcated with the norms (Kohlberg comes to mind).

All known cultures are evolved cultures, and most are highly 
evolved cultures (some are degenerate cultures, but few).
Children behave prosocially, as shown experimentally.

> To be honest, I don't think it is at all straining credulity to
> suspect that even something as basic as maternal concern is highly
> dependent on culture.

All human behavior depends on an interaction of culture and genes.

>As with your practice of referring to non self regarding behavior
>as 'prosocial' rather than 'emotionally selfish', I believe your
>referring to emotions such as shame, quilt, spite, etc.
>as 'prosocial' presupposes we already understand their function.
>Of course, I agree that their effects are often prosocial, and
>they certainly LOOK like they might have been designed to perform
>this function, but I think in a world a little less inculcated
>with behaviorist leanings they could with equal justification
>be referred to as ego-related or self-worth related emotion.

There is little doubt but that prosocial emotions are ego-related 
and self-worth related. From the psychological standpoint, the latter are 
plausible statements concerning mental functioning. This in no way 
conflicts with the idea that such behavior is prosocial.

>> We
>> are genetically predisposed to incorporate generosity and altruism into
>> our behavior, and many of those humans who do not (e.g., sociopaths) are
>> likely lacking in some of the genetic machinery for prosociality.
> Agreed.  Its just that I would argue, based on Hume's observations
> on the manner in which "association facilitates the sympathy",
> that in a totally unenculturated group of humans everyone would
> be a sociopath by today's standards, for a time at least
> (the wild boy of aveyron comes to mind).

The idea of an unenculturated group is not very interesting. All 
behavior is the interaction of culture and genes, except for wild boys and 
the like.

The notion that you can pose a meaningful question concerning 
human behavior in terms of culture vs. genes is wrong-headed.

>>> And aren't
>>> we also in agreement that, whatever has led to these developments,
>>> nature is engaged in a relentless crusade to eliminate self
>>> sacrifice, throttling every 9/11 terrorist and self-incinerating
>>> Buddhist monk she can get her hands on?
>> We cannot agree on this, either. Culture and nature conspire to
>> create as many self-sacrificing individuals as self-sacrifice.
>Wow!  You've blown my mind!  Self-incinerating monk genes don't
>have to pay a heavy price for their phenotypic propensities?

Please try to understand this: society can create more monks to 
offset the monks that incinerate themselves.

This is just like saying that humans can produce chickens to 
replace the chickens they eat. It happens all the time.

> I
> agree about the hitchhiking business and, indeed, have been
> promoting a similar idea (that emotional instability and
> increased concern for others are maladaptive by-products of
> the evolution of rationality) for almost twenty years now e.g.,
> see:

I see what you're saying.  But are emotionally unstable people more 
likely to be selfish or altruistic than stable people?

Lynn O'Connor deals with patients whose mental problems involve 
excessive dependence on others for self-image, and excessive self-sacrifice 
(she can correct me if I've stated this incorrectly).


Herbert Gintis
Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts
External Faculty, Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM
Recent papers are posted on my web site.

Get 'Game Theory Evolving' (Princeton, 2000) 

There is no sorrow so great that does not find
its background in joy.
                           Niels Bohr (1938)