Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The quest for equality   posted by Razib @ 4/11/2007 03:34:00 PM

Rooting Out the Robin Hood Effect:
After several rounds, a noticeable pattern emerged: The rich suffered, and the poor got a helping hand. Over 70% of the money spent to drain another player's purse was directed at richer players, while around 60% of income-boosting spending went to poorer players, the team reports tomorrow in Nature. What's more, the poorest participants spent almost twice as much money draining incomes than top earners did, and the top earners spent 77% more than the poorest players to boost lower incomes.

Now, from page 156 of Evolution for Everyone:
...Lee's informant [amongst the Bushmen] was perfectly aware of the purpose of all this jesting: "When a young man kills much meat, he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can't accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. In this way we cool his heart and make him gentle.

The author's point is to the illustrate the emergence of groups amongst humans, and how they dampen within group differences. He uses the literature to show that our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, tend to be less egalitarian in this manner than small scale societies. Amongst our cousins to the alpha males go all the spoils. This is interesting especially in light of Herrick's earlier post about the possibility that post-Neolithic populations shifted from one of predominant between group (band) selection (i.e., the importance of metapopulation dynamics) to within group selection (i.e., the rise of the super alpha male). One consequence of mass societies is that concerns like the one above seem old-fashioned, and certainly the scope of human "groups" today on the level of nationalities is simply too large to constrain the ego driven quest for status of superior individuals. Between group selection needs groups of small size, and many of them. One may posit a two-step process that led to the crystallization of modern human society as we know it. First we made the transition from individuals competing within a loose social matrix to that of the tightly bound small groups which acted in concert against each other, then again at the rise of mass societies spurred by agriculture individuals and smaller groups (families, guilds, etc.) operated in a much more complex and multi-faceted conditonal manner to maximize their fitness.