Cactus Club August 1998

Cycle IV:Part 1

1 August 1998................Darwin and the Deity

Quoting from THE MORAL ANIMAL by Robert Wright--------"But Darwin's father was a practical man. And in those days zoology and theology were two sides of one coin. If all living things were God's handiwork, then the study of their ingenious design was the study of God's genius. The most noted proponent of this view was William Paley, author of the 1802 book _Natural Theology; or evidences of the existence and attributes of the Deity, collected from the appearances of nature_. In it Paley argued that, just as a watch implies a watchmaker, a world full of intricately designed organisms, precisely suited to their tasks, implies a designer.(He was right. The question is whether the designer is a farseeing God or an unconscious process.)" Question: Regarding the concept of morality, is it possible to believe in God AND evolutionary psychology? (PD)

4 August 1998..............genes, families, and the "social cage"

Quoting from THE MORAL SENSE by James Q. Wilson----------"This long excursion through murder, incest, child neglect, and infanticide was necessary to suggest that there are good reasons for supposing that the social bonds, which Durkheim rightly thought so important, are not entirely a matter of convention or accident or, if they ever were, that millennia of evolution have selected for those bonds that are most suited for the perpetuation of the species.

If Darwin and his followers are right, and I think they are, the moral sense must have had adaptive value; if it did not, natural selection would have worked against people who had such useless traits as sympathy, self-control, or a desire for fairness and in favor of those with the opposite tendencies (such as a capacity for ruthless predation, or a preference for immediate gratifications, or a disinclination to share). Biologists, beginning with Darwin, have long understood this. But contemporary biologists sometimes give too narrow an account of this evolutionary process, because they attempt to link selfish genes directly to unselfish behavior without explaining the intervening psychological mechanism. As I try to show in chapter 6, what evolution has selected for over countless millennia is not simply a desire to reproduce one's genes in the next generation, or even to ensure that similar genes among one's kin get reproduced, but a particular psychological orientation that has as one of its effects a preference for kin but extends to nonkin as well." Question: Do genetic patterns account for family creating instincts and then families create the "social cage", as De Waal calls it, or is there some other better explanation of the link between biology, morality, and society? (PD)

8 August 1998.............response to 4 August 1998

I believe that probably genes imbue us with social instincts. But if we see genes as mere ways of encoding information, and if we ask a more basic question, why should living systems store information which predisposes them to civility, we come to an insight which I find more useful.

In the natural environment in which we individual organisms find ourselves there are many patterns, of energy or raw materials, which we can exploit if we organize our activities into effective teams, but which are too large or complex for any of us individually to exploit. For example if one continent has rich farmland and another continent has iron ore then this pattern can be exploited -- with industries in steel, shipping, and mechanized agriculture -- but not by any one human.

Every environmental pattern which is more complex or larger than might be exploited by hunter gatherers offers benefits to those who cooperate. I present this as a fact of nature. And I suggest that this fact, mixed with the assumption that life evolves to fit the facts of nature, tells why we have social instincts. People form families and firms, and it is no accident. (RH)

10 August 1998..............response to 1 August 1998

Regarding the question of whether both a belief in God and a belief in evolutionary psychology are possible (or, to rephrase it slightly, whether the two may logically coexist in an individual's mind), I submit that not only is such a pairing possible, but that it is eminently reasonable Indeed, a belief in not only evolutionary psychology, but in all areas of evolution, is to me the only rational way to see God's creation.

All Western religions with which I am familiar hold as truth that God has bestowed upon man free will. It seems the only logical belief when one considers the full meaning of this notion -- that man may freely choose his course of action, but must suffer the consequences, whether good or bad, for any action -- is that God created a world in which he does not actively interfere. Without going into agonizing detail, my basic argument is that God must hold Himself bound by the same laws of physics and nature as man, if we are truly to have free will. With this belief, I hold concurrently that God's means of continuing to "improve" upon his creation is evolution, in all its varied forms.

To lay out in detail, much less debate, my ideas in this regard would take far more space and time than I have available here. So I'll point to one other notion: the critique of "attempting to know the mind of God." You'll be slapped with this criticism in a hurry when you begin saying such things as my last paragraph. And yet, to argue, as a point of "fact," against the notion that God uses evolution as His means of continuing His act of creation is to commit this very transgression, is it not?!

We certainly know there is evolution in the economic world. By the millions of individual choices of consumers in a free (or somewhat free) market, the health and longevity of each and every supplier is determined.

Not so obvious or quick, the changes in other areas occur nonetheless, and for similar reasons: the results of changes either work, and the changed system prospers, or else they don't and it perishes. To ignore this reality, for a religious person, is to truly miss one of the wonders of God's creation. (JV)

12 August 1998...........evolutionary psychology and Social Darwinism

Here is a letter to Scientific American from the co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, Leda Cosmides. Question: What is the relationship, if any, between evolutionary psychology and Social Darwinism? (PD)

14 August 1998...........evolutionary psychology and public-choice theory

Quoting from THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE by Matt Ridley-----------"In human beings, too, there is always conflict between the selfish individual and the greater good. Indeed, so pervasive is this tendency that a whole theory of political science has come to be based upon it. Public-choice theory , devised by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock in the 1960's holds that politicians and bureaucrats are not exempt from self-interest. Although they may be charged with pursuing public duty rather than their own advancements and rewards, they come inevitably and always to pursue what is best for themselves and their agency rather than for its clients or the taxpayers who fund it. They exploit induced altruism: they enforce cooperation and then defect. This may seem unduly cynical, but then the opposing view - that bureaucrats are selfless servants of the public good ('economic eunuchs', as Buchanan put it) - is unduly naive." Question: Does evolutionary psychology provide a biological basis for public choice-theory? (PD)

17 August 1998............aesthetics and social development

Please read AESTHETICS. Question: What is the relationship, if any, between aesthetics, morality, politics, and social development? (PD)

19 August 1998..........response to 8 August 1998

RH suggests an intriguing rhetorical perspective on humanity and its natural social inclinations. However, had he used the word "how" instead of the word "why" in his statement, he would have given us a prospectus for a scientific investigation of a pregnant hypothesis instead of merely an opinion or expression of belief.

Consider such a substitution in the second sentence in his first paragraph, viz. "HOW might living systems store information in such a manner as to predispose them to civility..." A similar transformation occurs when that substitution is made in his third paragraph, third sentence, which could then read "I suggest that this fact, mixed with the assumption that life evolves to fit the facts of nature, can tell us HOW we develop social instincts." Of course, we are still obliged to operationalize the other terms that he uses in order to make appropriate observations of the phenomena of concern, but now we are well on the way to a scientific endeavor.

May I point out that a "why" question is a supplication to the deity, the presumed creator of the universe, who is generally believed to have a purpose for nature as we perceive it. We can ask "why" but we have no means for receiving an answer. All we have to go on is the splendor of the creation--nature--and what our senses and mental faculties equip us to determine as to "how" it works. Nature is like a smorgasbord prepared by an anonymous chef. Taste all you want but nevermind trying to get into the kitchen.

I might add an observation of my own, that there is only nature for us to contemplate and it is in the nature of humans to nurture. LEFT ALONE, this is what they may be observed doing most of the time. That is good enough for me. This I can rely on. I suppose this makes me a pantheist and an optimistic one at that. (AL)

21 August 1998.................some general thoughts

Humans have evolved a social instinct and a moral instinct. Both have enabled us to better adapt to our environment, thus reproduce, and avoid the fate of extinction. The social instinct predisposes us to particular actions such as child nurturing and protection. This contributes to the social institution of family. We also have a genetic predisposition to trust, which contributes to the formation of a society of exchange. The moral instinct is less specific in that, like the capacity for language, it gives us a potential which has many variations. We learn morals in the same sense that we learn language. Learning ability has evolved because it generates reproductive fitness. The genetic equipment which provides an emotional response to "wrong" actions and thoughts, which we call our conscience, combined with our capacity to learn, results in morality. Cultures also evolve, but at a more rapid pace. They are complex adaptive systems subject to path dependency which means that small differences at one point amount to large differences as time goes by and events unfold. This is why some say that all history is biography. Since humans make choices that determine cultural evolution and our choices are conditioned by our morality and our capacity for morality is evolutionary, we have a connection between culture, morality, and biology. This complex connection begins and ends with the individual, whose own spiritual evolution is a key ingredient in the overall development of social relationships and thus the quality of human association. Each individual, from Hitler to the Pope, is the result of three forces working interdependently. These are nature, nurture, and notsure. The last one may be the most important and is certainly the least understood. (PD)

23 August 1998..............Japan, Germany, and the United States

Quoting from TRUST by Francis Fukuyama----------"With regard to the ability to form spontaneous communities such as those detailed above, the United States has had more in common with Japan and Germany than any of these three has with Chinese societies like Hong Kong and Taiwan, on the one hand, and Italy and France on the other. The United States, like Japan and Germany, has historically been a high-trust, group oriented society, despite the fact that Americans believe themselves to be rugged individualists. But the United States has been changing rather dramatically over the past couple of generations with respect to its art of association. In many ways, American society is becoming as individualistic as Americans have always believed it was: the inherent tendency of rights-based liberalism to expand and multiply those rights against the authority of virtually all existing communities has been pushed toward its logical conclusion. The decline of trust and sociability in the United States is also evident in any number of changes in American society: the rise of violent crime and civil litigation; the breakdown of family structure; the decline of a wide range of intermediate social structures like neighborhoods, churches, unions, clubs, and charities; and the general sense among Americans of a lack of shared values and community with those around them." Questions: Is there a general decline in sociability taking place in the United States? Can civil society co-exist with "rights-based liberalism" or is there a conflict with resulting economic and political implications? (PD)

25 August 1998...............reason, morality, and evolution

Quoting from THE FATAL CONCEIT by F.A. Hayek------------"_____ I suggest that we need not only an evolutionary epistemology but also an evolutionary account of moral traditions, and one of a character rather different than hitherto available. Of course the traditional rules of human intercourse, after language, law, markets and money, were the fields in which evolutionary thinking originated. Ethics is the last fortress in which human pride must now bow in recognition of its origins. Such an evolutionary theory of morality is indeed emerging, and its essential insight is that our morals are neither instinctual nor a creation of reason, but constitute a separate tradition - 'between instinct and reason', as the title of the first chapter indicates - a tradition of staggering importance in enabling us to adapt to problems and circumstances far exceeding our rational capacities. Our moral traditions, like many other aspects of our culture, developed concurrently with our reason, not as its product. Surprising and paradoxical as it may seem to some to say this, these moral traditions outstrip the capacities of reason." Questions: Hayek suggests that morality is not a creation of reason........ but can reason be used to examine morality? Binding children's feet, sacrificing virgins, and eating each other have all been within the acceptable moral guardrails of certain societies. What is the role of the individual in relation to the authority of morality? (PD)

26 August 1998...............response to 21 August 1998

Your Cactus Club Dialogue item of 8/21/98 seems plausible to me as a rationale for the study of human society. Your concise summation deserves repeating, stated as a hypothesis for an authentic social science, which I would paraphrase as follows: The quality of human association (society) evolves subject to the dynamic interaction of three forces acting on each and every human individual, namely (1) nature, (2) nurture and (3) notsure. The latter force, "notsure," is more generally recognized as humility, tolerance or fairness. It may very well be the most important, but least understood by social scientists, of all the natural influences on human behavior. It is manipulated by the most arrogant of politicians, who depend on its prevalence in their drive for conquest. As expressed by T. J. Lowi ("Incomplete Conquest: Governing America," Rinehart and Winston, 1981), "Participation is an instrument of conquest because it encourages people to give their consent to being governed [by others who presume aristocratic or noble authority ]...Even when [participation] does not produce a clear sense of will [of the people], the purpose of participation is nonetheless fulfilled, because the process itself produces consent [in which is] deeply embedded people's sense of fair play, [the] principle that those who play the game must accept the outcome. Those who participate in politics are similarly committed even if they are consistently on the losing side." Appropos of your "notsure" idea, which I wholeheartedly agree is pivotal for the advancement of civilization, I would highly recommend a read of Richard Feynman's recently published 1963 lectures to some University of Washington students entitled "The Meaning of It All--Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist," (Addison-Wesley, 1998). Feynman characterizes as absurd any authority based on a presumption of certainty of knowing. He points out (and who better to do it) that "it is in the admission of ignorance and uncertainty that there is hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn't get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man." If this posture is appropriate for an eminent physicist, it is all the more so for us aspiring socionomists, who would set an example for the rest of mankind. May I add, following Spinoza (the inventor of liberalism), that a seed of doubt is a more civilizing influence than all the righteous indignation and moral outrage that mankind can muster. (AL)

28 August open letter to Boris Yeltsin

One of our Cactus Club members, Michael Darby, has written the following open letter to Boris Yeltsin concerning current events in Russia. Question: What are the socionomic aspects of this letter and the situation in Russia which encouraged him to write it? (PD)

28 August 1998

President Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation

Dear Mr. President,

From all around the world you will be receiving advice. Most of that advice will attempt to persuade you to impose some or other control or restriction upon the Russian people. All such advice is wrong, dangerous to Russia, and potentially fatal to your Presidency.

Based on the lessons of history, particularly the economic boom which followed the postwar decontrol of the economy of (Western) Germany, I urge you to remain in office and to trust the market place.

I respectfully tender the following eleven-point plan to end the crisis and consolidate your presidency.

With all good wishes for the future of your nation,

Michael Darby
Freemarketeers of Australia


1. Accept and announce that the recent decline in the exchange value of the ruble does have advantages for the Russian Federation, especially in the export of minerals, the improvement in domestic competitiveness of local manufacturers, and in appeal to tourists.

2. Announce that currency exchanges will re-open on Monday 31 August, and that currency exchanges will never again close. This measure will remove the element of fear. Announce that you will be in person at the door of the currency Exchange when it opens to exchange all your personal stock of dollars for rubles at the market rate. Your loyal Ministers will insist on following your example.

4. Announce that printing of rubles has ceased, and that future printing of currency will be limited to replacement of old and destroyed notes. This measure will immediately halt the decline in the value of the ruble, stimulate capital inflow, and prompt a steady recovery of the exchange rate.

5. Announce a date of auction to the highest bidder of all Russia's space research assets.

6. Announce that all other State-owned commercial assets will be swiftly denationalised, by distribution of shares in each asset among the citizens of the Russian Federation. Where an asset is wholly contained within a State, distribution of shares could be equally distributed among each citizen within that State. This measure will restore the confidence of the people in the future of Russia, and in your Presidency. Moreover, this measure will take off the pressure for massive increases in social welfare. Commercial assets for denationalisation include but are not limited to: telephone and cellular phones systems, factories; schools; universities; mines; dams; broadcasting stations; nuclear reactors and other power stations; electricity reticulation; all buildings not directly related to the functions of government; airlines and airports; railways, tramways, buses and trolley-buses; dams; oil and gas wells, refineries, storage and pipelines; water and sewerage; sporting facilities; ports and docks; banks; merchant shipping; forests; agricultural assets not already in private hands. Shares in these various assets will become defacto subsidiary currencies, which will supplement but not threaten the ruble.

7. Replace all visa requirements for all visitors with a straight visa fee of US$100 per month, payable on arrival, and extendable. This measure will bring an immediate spectacular increase in the availability of foreign currency; from tourists, from investors, and from commercial buyers of Russian Federation products. Present visa requirements are a terrible impediment to the economy. With the abolition of visa requirements, embassies and consulates around the world may be closed or downgraded. In many countries the interests of the Russian Federation may be well-served by honorary chargis-d'affaires. The reduction in the foreign profile of the Russian Federation will permit the sale of many buildings and the saving of very large amounts of foreign currency.

8. Abolish all import duties. The devaluation of the ruble removes any need for protection of Russian industry. Persistence with import duties increases the cost of many inputs of industry, and impairs the purchasing power of Russians.

9. Accept a large fee from Japan for withdrawing from the Kuril Islands.

10. Accept a large fee from the Americans for demilitarising Kaliningrad.

11. Abolish permanently all taxation on income derived from savings.

12. Relax, and trust the ingenuity of the Russian people and the subtlety of the market place to overcome all problems and build the economic strength of the Russian Federation.