Archive for January 19, 2010

Prelude to Bad Faith: 03

January 19, 2010 5 comments

Before I post the third part of my series on bad faith, a few important concepts and definitions are necessary. This post will try to briefly explain them:

Nature of Human Perception and Motivation: Human perception of reality is affected by two basic factors that underlie how we “see” the world.

The first factor is built in cognitive bias, which is largely unavoidable because of the very nature of perception. The universe cannot be perceived until it is processed, and any attempt to process large bodies of information (universe) by a less complex system (human brain) will involve algorithms to simplify the input into perceivable units. While it is not possible to eliminate all bias in processing information, the brain can learn to work around ‘blind spots’ if it is aware of their existence. It can use new information to reprocess previously categorized perceptions and get a more complete picture of reality.

The second factor is motivation. Human beings will often not reprocess perceptions, unless the mind feels a need to (or is compelled to do so). While it is desirable for people to question their cherished beliefs, most will not do so until external circumstances force them to do it.

The ‘Ape’ Mind: The ‘Ape’ Mind is a remnant of our evolutionary history. Ape and human behavior is best understood as a continuum. I prefer to see the ape mind as a set of behaviors and perception patterns with considerable survival value in apes, but decreasing survival value as we go up the technological change.

Primates are almost unique amongst land mammals in their ability to recognize themselves, and their social structure reflects that innovation. Other pack animals like wolves, dogs, hyenas and lions lack that concept, and hence behave in a manner driven by instinct (complex but hardwired behavior). Other animals that posses the concept of self, such as dolphins and elephants, also form social groups that are similar to primates, but unlike traditional pack animals. The distinguishing feature of self-aware animals is the ability to readily form civil and mutually beneficial relationships with animals not related to them. Such relationships lack the hard wired dominance/ submission features of other animal packs. Human civilization is merely the most extreme example of this ability.

However such civil relationships do not preclude the existence of some domination and survival considerations. Indeed they are an integral part of the dynamics of such groups. The issue then relates to how such considerations scale. Behaviors that work in groups of 100-200 individuals might not scale into larger and more complex groups, and are frequently counterproductive. Throughout most of human history, we lived in groups with memberships ranging from 100-1,000. Large town and cities are a very recent innovation, even for a species as young as humans.

To better understand the problems posed by the ape mind, it is worthwhile to define it’s features.

Features of the ‘Ape’ Mind: I will concentrate on the problems with scaling the ape mind into a post industrial human civilization.

Hierarchy and Associated Issues: Both communal apes and humans have hierarchies, that are fairly fluid. However a lot of such behavior was shaped by the dynamics of smaller groups than those we live in. It simply does not scale up well with group size, and attempts to monopolize power and resources cause much discontent and instability when there is more stuff. Chimps and hunter gatherers do not have a lot of things and stuff to hoard, nor are they dependent on the tacit cooperation of unseen others to keep their system functional. Humans  have, post-agriculture and civilization, stuff to hoard which then creates situations that were not part of the environment in which our behavior/ cultures were formed.

Resource Allocation and Associated Issues: These arise from the first problem, and present even bigger challenges. Do professions that make more money contribute that much more to group welfare, than those who makes less? Can you honestly say that a harvard educated lawyer or a wharton MBA add more value to society than the guy who repairs and maintains the equipment in a power station? Do shysters benefit society, or are they parasites? How much parasitism can a society bear before it comes apart? Will people participate in a society where only parasitic behavior is rewarded? Is a welfare mother a bigger drain on you than an MBA, corporate lawyer, cop etc? and why do you believe that such shysters benefit you in the first place.

Residual Behavior Associated Issues: Most people celebrate athletes, actors.. swoon over certain physical features without wondering about their relevance in a post-industrial society. Bears and Hippos can outrun humans, chimps can overpower humans, plastic surgery can create bigger boobs, fuller lips and tighter cunts, lasik can correct eyesight.. I can go on. What is the relevance of athletic ability in a world where competitive athletes often die before (and have much more damaged bodies than ) the average person?

The unpleasant truth is a lot of ape mind mediated behaviors and attitudes are worse than useless in a post-industrial civilization.

In my next post, I will examine how this problem plays out in the context of women, society and sex.