Cheaters beware

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More ‘altruistic’ punishment in larger societies:

…Second-party punishment is when you punish someone who defected on you; third-party punishment is when you punish someone who defected on someone else. Third-party punishment is an effective way to enforce the norms of strong reciprocity and promote cooperation. Here we present new results that expand on a previous report from a large cross-cultural project. This project has already shown that there is considerable cross-cultural variation in punishment and cooperation. Here we test the hypothesis that population size (and complexity) predicts the level of third-party punishment. Our results show that people in larger, more complex societies engage in significantly more third-party punishment than people in small-scale societies.

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49 Comments

  1. Quite fascinating. I wonder what the scaling effect of IQ has to do with the ability to understand that a third-party has actually been subject to a defection. I grew up in a poor neighborhood with a bunch of really low-IQ people and looking back I think that a lot of people there simply could not even recognize when a third-party had suffered from a defection. I’ll assume that everyone here knows of Dunbar’s number. But I’ve always wondered if there’s some minimum group mean IQ threshold beneath which applying abstract reasoning to punishing defectors is impossible and that the group in question is doomed to a society based solely on interpersonal relationships.

  2. Far East countries often executed surrendered enemy soldiers during battle because such enemy soldiers considered not loyal to the master. Captured enemy who want to die for his master actually often was spared. 
     
    Yet, negotiated surrender during peace was often accepted without execution because enemy soldiers or commander were `enlightened’ by negotiator to switch side for `justice’.

  3. AG, Where do you get those ideas?

  4. Well, I’m not sure that you’d be interpreting this properly, or even if there is any real selective pressure to interpret at all. Supposedly Aborigine Americans would take one high-profile captive who did not surrender as a trophy to their triumph; i.e. the more fanatical the opponent the greater the victory. 
     
    I doubt that all meme mutations, ala Dawkins, develop from a positive selection process. This sort of reminds me of Razib’s, and my, insistence that the particulars of theology probably have very little cultural effect and that they merely serve as in-group markers.

  5. What is Dunbar’s number? Sounds like you have an interesting hypothesis…. 
     
    Henry Harpending

  6. Dunbar’s number is based on the theory that there is a general correlation between neocortal size in the homind family and the ability the number of simultaneously operant interpersonal relationships. Dunbar’s number for homo sapien sapien is 150. He did a regression analysis by analyzing various non-human hominids and predicted that the human number would be 147. So, he began looking in the real-world and, good lord, he found all sorts of examples such as Hutterite’s splitting at 150 and forming new groups and mafia families splintering at around 120. 
     
    Now all human beings of all intelligence levels probably have a Dunbar number within a sigma of 150, extrapolating from the general hominid regression, but abstract, non-personal relationships would be governed by other factors. So, pretty much any human being can operate in a small group but operating in groups beyond 150 requires abstraction, the ability to follow rules without direct consequence. 
     
    Note, that this is all hypothetical, but I would surmise that the ability to abstract would be related to the complexity of the immediate social world in which the individual operated. For example, the American Aborigines thought it uproariously funny when the European settlers wanted to “buy” land from them. Since titled land-ownership bore no validity to their practical existence they could not cognitively access an abstract rule that governed such property arrangements. So, they went about the “property” as before and generally pissed off the settlers who thought such ownership should allow them to exclude the previous “owners”. 
     
    Titled property rights are a more abstract, and formal, method of determining resource usage than is transient territorial hunting. So, if one population group develops titled property it would seem that this would be a positive selection pressure to develop the abstract ability to utilize that. I’ve always said that well-enforced property rights, themselves, are a serious positive selective pressure in the recent evolution of the human brain in humans who developed that civilizational tool. It takes a fair amount of foresight to manage a piece of property to return a future return that has a positive net present value, and this reminds me of the Marshmallow Experiments where kids who withheld on early consumption to get extra marshmallows later had higher IQs than those who could not wait. Yeah, I’m aware that there is a chicken/egg paradox there, but hey, that’s why we hash these things out through dialog. 
     
    I’m sure you could devise some sort of test to examine how quickly people learned abstract social rules in a context completely foreign to them and see how well it would correlate to IQ. I predict that you’d see a gradient where some very complex rules would never be grasped at a certain bottom limit of IQ.

  7. Our results show that people in larger, more complex societies engage in significantly more third-party punishment than people in small-scale societies. 
     
    That’s more or less a definition of large-scale society, or as far as that goes, The State. In the history of Athens, for example, a key turning-point came when vendetta and feud were replaced by public enforcement of homicide law.  
     
    I couldn’t tell from the excerpt how “third-party punishment” was defined. If a policeman is defined as a third-party punisher, the point is a truism. On the other hand, if only altruistic (self-sacrificing) third party punishment is intended, it’s a significant finding, since it means that in larger societies people are more likely to internalize and enforce their society’s norms.

  8. Here’s an interesting question: would the feud between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks be considered second- or third-party. It reminds me of Hayek’s claim that socialism was a misplaced “small group ethic” grafted onto a complex society. It’s another chicken/egg dilemma.

  9. I think that “second-party” can only mean “the person offended or someone personally connected to them (family, close friend, or sworn ally of some sort.)

  10. 150 sounds rather large to me. The number of adults in a hunter-gatherer band (the norm during most of human evolution) would be much smaller than this. An army platoon is usually about 30 men (probably the maximum size for an unstructured cooperative unit).

  11. An army platoon is usually about 30 men (probably the maximum size for an unstructured cooperative unit). 
     
    30 men ~ 60 adults ~ 150 people

  12. 2nd party punishment is vengeance; 3rd party punishment is justice.

  13. Entirely off topic, but a quick FYI at late notice. James Flynn is being interviewed on BBC radio this afternoon at 14.30 GMT. It’s unlikely to be the most penetrating interview of all time, but should be worth a listen. 
     
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/fivelive/programmes/mayo.shtml 
     
    Thought it might be of interest. You should still be able to listen to it later, via the Daily Mayo download for today.

  14. Sorry, that should be 14.00 GMT.

  15. One of the unsolved problems in Australia is integrating Aborigines into the society & economy. The Aborigines don’t understand whitefella justice. Their way of punishing a male miscreant is to spear him in the leg. In a hunter-gatherer society, this has a high risk of death. Girls were disciplined by pack-rape. Aborigines donÂ’t get whitefella justice, which evolves and in which there is a huge gap in time between infraction and punishment.  
     
    This has resulted in a situation where judges give ridiculously light sentences to Aborigines for serious offences.

  16. Or non-mandatory sentencing, which means that for young Aboriginal offenders, even for crimes for which the law normally prescribes a mandatory minimum period of detention, the judiciary have the discretion to suspend the sentence or record no conviction, even for multiple repeat offenders, i.e. no sentence at all, even for very serious crimes.  
     
    On the one hand, it is obviously solving nothing if the whole male Aboriginal population spend large parts of their lives in prison. On the other, if there is no sanction, offenders learn that they can keep repeating the crime with impunity, sometimes to the same victim.

  17. It’s obvious that when you’ve got two wildly disparate groups of people with no reciprocity and no trust between the two, that forcing one group into another’s norms is going to wreak havoc.  
     
    “On the one hand, it is obviously solving nothing if the whole male Aboriginal population spend large parts of their lives in prison”. Of course, I agree.  
     
    But the fact is that Australia as a first world country has to protect its children.

  18. Diana, 
     
    The Aborigine problem, reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a guy from Ghana. He felt that the US was much more lawless than his home country, as the reported cases of rape seemed high. He said that in the village where he came from rape was hardly ever recorded as everyone knew that the customary punishment was “Nail in Head” – by which he meant that if a woman reported rape, it was the duty of her brothers to seize the accused offender, hold him down, while one of them hammered a 6″ nail through his skull!! 
     
    There were also other customary punishments against those accused of homosexual acts, which I don’t recall.  
     
    This guy was a professed Christian, as were his family, but he told me he would not hesitate to carry out any customary punishment…

  19. I’ll recommend again “Cohesive Force” by Black-Michaud, which describes the ways that feud and vendetta are a source of social order in stateless societies. In much of the world during much of history, including very recently in some places, “self-help” or vigilante justice was the only justice. I.e., there was no state monopoly of legitimate violence, and your only protector was your strong right arm (or the strong right arm of a relative) — so that isolated people had no protector and no justice.  
     
    Life can be exciting in stateless societies, but it’s not an attractive life. All men had to be armed and ready for combat at all times, women and children were fair game when away from their men, and the large clans and coalitions of clans bullied the small ones. The war of each against all never lasted long, as kin groups and regional groups quickly developed statelike violent capacities, but in prestate societies these groups tended to by small and local, with larger configurations usually unstable and transient. 
     
    Iceland in 1000 or so AD was pretty much a stateless society, and Tibet up until very recently has been described as such (Chinese suzereinity was very limited).

  20. Aboriginal life from what I’ve read is one instance of payback after another. 
     
    Also, paleoanthropologists have discovered a huge degree of injuries that could only come from other humans. Cited here.

  21. Well in terms of brutish behavior, I recommend reading Napoleon Chagnon’s “Yanomamo: The Fierce People”, which outlines – often in vivid detail – how village is pitted against village in the deep Amazon rain forest. Where men club each other and steal each other’s wives. Where husbands regularly club their wives. Even, more horrifyingly, where wives proudly point to the club marks on their heads as proof that they were fought over by multiple men, and thus see them as proof of their worth??!!

  22. mm, sounds like an interesting sort of a book, john emerson@12:01hrs. Must chase it down, as just about the only contribution “my people”(*’koff*) have made to the world are technical terms, such as deadly-feud, blood-feud, black-mail, hame-sucken, stot-reif, reiving &c.  
    Travellers reported that even fully-armed warbands were loth to travel as far as the next parish, due to the elevated level of interpersonal misunderstanding. 
    Needless to say they were all grotesquely poor, and their (inadvertent) interference with commerce in the new “united” kingdom was such that only protracted, full-on state violence was able to bring them to understand the ‘benefits’ of the 3rd. party way.

  23. Woopsy! Sorry folks, that were me, forgot I were on a ‘borrowed’ machine which won’t autofill the i.d.

  24. I wonder…the larger a society is, the more third parties there are. Perhaps this effect is simply stochastic. ;)

  25. Diana says: 
     
     
    Also, paleoanthropologists have discovered a huge degree of injuries that could only come from other humans. Cited here. (An article that points to the tragic circumstances of the Aboriginal Australians.)  
     
     
    The left and other liberals who would help the Aboriginal Australians (and indeed, any aboriginal community) are, IMO, their worst enemies, because they will not admit that not all humans are equal. 
     
    The two biggest problems that the Aboriginal Australians face are: 1) a lack of tolerance for alcohol and other recreational drugs caucasians routinely use and; 2) not being selected for living in and exploiting large groups of humans. 
     
    Making alcohol widely (and cheaply–by providing government payments) available (because it would be racist not to do so) within Aboriginal communities in Australia was tantamount to genocide. 
     
    Oh well.

  26. If it was tantamount to genocide, why has the Aboriginal population increased so much since alcohol was made widely and cheaply available to Aboriginal people?

  27. all humans are equal. 
     
    the word “same” probably captures your meaning better.

  28. Interesting hidden concept here. There could be two kinds of genocide, one cultural and the other biological. Introducing modern technology and entertainment to a population twenty or thirty thousand years behind in evolution (yeah, i know that’s a problematic claim) destroys a way of life. I suppose you could call that cultural genocide, especially, if there is no way to functionally integrate that group into the conquering society. 
     
    Human groups conquer human groups and that is simply a fact of human existence. And many conquerers seem to try and integrate the conquered into their society. It seems unfair to single out any particular conquerer for having happened to conquer a population so radically undeveloped as to be beyond integration, when conquering a different culture would not meet the criteria for cultural genocide. 
     
    So, cultural genocide might be a analytic term without any moral condemnation attached.

  29. Introducing modern technology and entertainment to a population twenty or thirty thousand years behind in evolution (yeah, i know that’s a problematic claim) destroys a way of life. I suppose you could call that cultural genocide, especially, if there is no way to functionally integrate that group into the conquering society. 
     
    the andaman islanders population bounced back after they were separated from indian settlers and put on their own island. their susceptibility to disease is probably a major issue, as well as their inability to fare well on a rice diet and with alcohol.

  30. Interesting, I’ve been googling and have not be able to find a reliable estimate for how long they were evolutionarily isolated. Maybe there are other environmental pressures that changed their path. 
     
    I also wonder if there is a major difference between integrating aborigines into a 15th century situation and a 20th century situation.

  31. I also wonder if there is a major difference between integrating aborigines into a 15th century situation and a 20th century situation. 
     
    their utility as laborers would mean they would be more economically assimilable. but they would die, just like native american laborers in much of latin america died. disease would hit them much harder without modern medicine.

  32. Asher and Razib – the assumption seems to be that we are considering only Aboriginal people with no other admixture living a late Pleistocene lifestyle being introduced to modern technology and entertainment in the 20th Century. 
     
    Perhaps a useful first step would be to define ‘Aboriginal’, in order to then attempt to find support for the allegation that permitting people in Aboriginal communities to have equal legal access to the alcohol that we all know Caucasians handle so well was tantamount to genocide. That is, as opposed to the introduction of diseases, interbreeding, agricultural diet and all of the other ways in which it is possible to exterminate a people or their culture. 
     
    Isn’t isolating people and forbidding interbreeding just another way of saying ‘Apartheid’? And what about isolating them from access to modern medicine? 
     
    Asher – you also make a good point about the length of time in isolation. This might not be as simple as first meets the eye. The first waves of ‘genocide’ might go unrecorded, if we stretch the definition of genocide to include meanings other than deliberate extermination. 
     
    I’m not trying to be smart about this, I don’t think there are any simple answers. The data actually show that the percentage of ‘Aboriginal’ people (however defined) who drink alcohol is no higher than the percentage of Australians of solely Caucasian ancestry, and that the percentage who drink alcohol excessively is also no higher.

  33. The first waves of ‘genocide’ might go unrecorded, if we stretch the definition of genocide to include meanings other than deliberate extermination. 
     
    it’s tricky. the mass die off that occurred with native americans probably occurred in europe as well during the period agriculture expanded between 10 and 5 thousand years ago. it was simply integrated over a longer time period and the rate of death at any given time was lower because the difference between the populations and the rate of advance was not large (which is why total replacement by neolithics from anatolia did not occur).  
     
    in any case, the physical perpetuation of a ‘people’ in some of these cases does need a reexamination of liberal ideals. the andaman islanders for example seem to be happy living around other south asians, but they die. so the indian gov. proactively isolated them, and the indian gov. is proactively isolating the ‘untouched’ sentinel islanders.

  34. Raz – for preservation of a people and culture, maybe it’s a defensible strategy, particularly if the people themselves say they want it, but it’s not an easy choice – it means isolating them from the benefits and comforts of the modern world including modern medicine and denying them education, as I am sure you realize. Maybe also the men think it’s fine but it might not be so fine for the women and kids, if they think they would be better off in a modern world. Also, it’s not a question here of an untouched people, far from it. 
     
    And Aboriginal Australians are not dying off, they are increasing in number, although it depends how you define ‘Aboriginal’ – the definition extends well beyond people who are of 100% Aboriginal ancestry. Large parts of the culture are already dead, they’ve gone, the last people who had the knowledge have died. 
     
    It’s not an easy question, and it’s definitely not as simple as saying it was all lost when stone age hunter gatherers were given full legal access to alcohol. When that happened, ‘they’ were no longer ‘untouched’ and no longer stone age; they got touched at least 200 years before that happened, maybe longer.  
     
    I think maybe it’s necessary to question what it is that is being preserved and why – if it is just to preserve a people as a museum exhibit, is there a point?

  35. Sorry to rabbit on, but it’s a current topic – as Diana pointed out, Australia as a first world country has a duty of care to the children, at the very least – even if you argue that duty is offset for the ‘untouched’ children and they should be left to the mercies of traditional Aboriginal legal systems, there are no untouched kids – they are all in school, and they already know enough to know that it is not OK for them to be pack raped. And it is impacting them in bad ways, as Aboriginal suicide rates show. 
     
    Some liberal idealists might choose to portray the late Pleistocene lifestyle as idyllic for political purposes, but it was anything but that. And it’s already irretrievably gone.

  36. And it’s already irretrievably gone. 
     
    yes, that’s key. there is no sentinel island in australia.

  37. Al Gore once uttered the memorable words “no controlling legal authority” and in the same vein I think that the Aust. Abor. situation can be addressed similarly in that there is simply no controlling moral authority. What these rare situations do is to demonstrate how morality arises from reciprocity and not from some overarching rules of fairness. 
     
    No controlling moral authority … heh, the carefully-crafted arguments I’ve blown up with that one … 
     
    Do European settlers today owe a moral debt to aborigines? How? The aborigines almost seem to not even be able to comprehend such a moral obligation; i.e. do we have a moral obligation to stop rape as a tool for social justice? Well, obviously not given that it’s the mode for delivering justice, itself (I’m being ironic here). Given that the conquerors cannot even manage to devise a moral structure capable of integrating the conquered any moral obligation will be solely to the conqueror’s sense of moral duty to themselves. 
     
    It is a terrible thing to be the giver and judge of one’s own law.

  38. Levels of comprehension vary widely. It can be argued that the means of cognitive ability are lower than in other populations. 
     
    But the very fact that children commit suicide should tell you something.

  39. An army platoon is usually about 30 men (probably the maximum size for an unstructured cooperative unit).“ 
     
    “30 men ~ 60 adults ~ 150 people” 
     
    True, but the Dunbar number is supposed to be “the number of simultaneously operant interpersonal relationships.” In that context, 150 is still high, unless you count casual acquaintanceships. 
     
    I suspect that most groups bigger than about 30 would have some internal structure, probably hierarchical. The tendency to split up above the number 150 might then reflect the inability of the central ‘leader’ or leadership group to mange more than a small number of groups. Again, in military terms, a commander seldom has more than 5 or 6 immediate subordinates. I think the same is true in business organisation, etc.

  40. “If it was tantamount to genocide, why has the Aboriginal population increased so much since alcohol was made widely and cheaply available to Aboriginal people?” 
     
    Sandgroper, I was going to point out that the vast increase in Abor. ppn in the last 20 years is due to part-Abors. claiming previously denied heritage. Maybe some fakes, too – you don?t have to go thru a laborious tribal enrollment process in Oz to be an Aboriginal, you just have to tick off a box on a census form, right? In the US, you have to be Federally enrolled, AND tribally enrolled. There are persons of Indian blood who are neither & they are not counted as Indian. 
     
    But you somewhat beat me to it. 
     
    I didn?t mean to start a stoush about demon rum, just wanted to point out that here is a picture-perfect human example of two juxtaposed legal systems based on what the scholar said. And it?s not working. The Aborigines have the worst of both worlds. They can?t take a rapist and stick a spear in his leg ? that?s against whitefella justice. But whitefella justice, which takes stuff like mitigating circumstance into account, has the effect of encouraging deviancy. The whole society suffers. Australia is embarassed by this. But one law for all isn’t quite right either….. 
     
    In any case the main agent of genocide against the Aborigines was indeed the impersonal agent of disease, mainly smallpox, which was spread to them by Macassan fishermen. After two bouts of smallpox, in the late 18th century, and the early 19th century, they were in no position to offer any resistance to European settlement. 
     
    (BTW, here’s a stupid review of this book, written by a prof with no medical or scientific creds whatever. The book has a lauditory introduction by Frank Fenner, one of the world’s foremost experts on smallpox. Goes to show you how polluted with ideology this issue has become.)

  41. Diana- yes, it went from being something to hide to being seen as advantageous to be ‘Aboriginal’, so the number shot up. The number of ‘pure’ Aboriginal people is obviously shrinking fast, which is going to go on happening because there is no way to stop it. The number of people living in Aboriginal communities and claiming a cultural connection is not shrinking, it’s zooming up at a faster rate than the total Australian population. 
     
    I’m not disagreeing emphatically with Richard, alcohol and drugs have clearly made all the numbers worse, but so has petrol sniffing. Alcohol and drugs make all the white crime figures worse too. It has never been possible to prevent all access to alcohol anyway. It’s a lot more than the combination of grog and genes or culture, it’s a fundamental clash of cultures. Aboriginal people had very complex legal systems, and when those controls were taken away, that’s the outcome. Put a culture that operates on collective ownership next to one that operates on individual ownership and there’s going to be trouble. Being locked in jail for a while is just part of the educational process, it’s not an effective sanction, and even that is not being used. 
     
    When people of largely European ancestry who are 1/8 or 1/16 Aboriginal can get away with saying that white men stole their country and destroyed their culture, and can consider themselves to be outside of the mainstream community and its obligations and not subject to its controls, that’s a different and very dangerous phenomenon. 
     
    It’s one thing to recognize that you have some Aboriginal ancestry and be allowed to feel OK about that. It’s another to claim that it gives you a licence to put yourself outside of the control of the law, and convince yourself that mainstream society owes you something. A lot of people don’t, but it seems an increasing number do.

  42. Interesting looking book, by the way. 
     
    Yes, there is an ideological war going on. Meanwhile the real Aboriginal people are sitting there wondering what the hell it is all about, as they rapidly disappear and everyone on both sides ignores them.

  43. If it was tantamount to genocide, why has the Aboriginal population increased so much since alcohol was made widely and cheaply available to Aboriginal people? 
     
    Why Sex Matters, Bobbi S Low, P10: 
     
    “… Suppose we wish to ask about variation in human fertility, Lowered fertility could have the proximate “cause” of later marriage age, and an ultimate selective cause of greater lineage success through fewer, better-invested children than through more numerous, but less able, children.” 
     
     
    The data actually show that the percentage of ‘Aboriginal’ people (however defined) who drink alcohol is no higher than the percentage of Australians of solely Caucasian ancestry, and that the percentage who drink alcohol excessively is also no higher. 
     
     
    Point me to the data. It is very clear from discussions with people in the medical research field in Australia that alcohol affects Aborigines more that it affects the average caucasian, and, growing up in Darwin with an abusive-when-drunk step-father has given me direct experience with the levels of Australian caucasian alcohol consumption (as well as going to an Australian University in Canberra). 
     
    Of course the introduction of diseases has had an enormous effect, but claiming that the percentages are the same glosses over the fact that the effects of alcohol on a people that has had little experience with it are at least an order of magnitude greater than the effects on a people that have had something approaching 10,000 years of experience.

  44. Razib said 
     
    all humans are equal. 
     
    the word “same” probably captures your meaning better. 
     
    You are correct. 
     
    However, I suspect that, eg, James Dewey Watson has done more for humanity and Rachael Carson has had a negative impact on humanity (particularly all those victims of malaria around the world).

  45. Rachael Carson has had a negative impact on humanity (particularly all those victims of malaria around the world). As Carson herself noted, mosquitoes developed resistances to pesticides and their associated application methods within months of widespread use in an area. 
     
    Even ignoring the ecological consequences of their use, you are failing to count the people who haven’t developed neurological diseases or cancer because of our reduction in pesticide use.

  46. As Carson herself noted, mosquitoes developed resistances to pesticides and their associated application methods within months of widespread use in an area. 
     
    Then why does the UN (WHO) now suggest the use of DDT (sprayed on walls in dwellings) in Africa? 
     
    Also, I grew up in an area where DDT was sprayed out in foggers every night to control mosquitoes and have shown no neurological damage that I can detect.

  47. Then why does the UN (WHO) now suggest the use of DDT (sprayed on walls in dwellings) in Africa?Ha! The pesticides are to be sprayed on walls because mosquitoes like to perch and rest after ingesting a meal. 
     
    Unfortunately, in regions where this practice has been attempted, strains have arisen in which the mosquitoes do not seek out the earliest opportunities to perch, and fly out of windows into the surrounding area after feeding on indoor humans. 
     
    That’s evolution for you.

  48. The DDT / malaria question has been immensely distorted by people with an anti-environmentlist ax to grind. Google “DDT hoax” and you’ll find lots of stuff.

  49. if we’re talking DDT i’m closing this thread to save all of you time and energy.

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