Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Human Dodos: the FAQs

If you read "Human Dodos", here are the Frequently Asked Questions.


1. Do liberals and libertarians really not feel four of the six moral dimensions?

The moral dimensions are quantitative traits. Plainly it's possible to elicit patriotism in a liberal, or disgust in a libertarian. We're talking about settings dialled up or down, not binary switches.

2. How do the moral dimensions fit with personality?

It's hard to find papers comparing psychology's five-factor model with MFT's six moral dimensions. I can only refer you to papers comparing liberals and conservatives (but not libertarians) which find:
"Evidence showing that the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to new experiences, extraversion and emotional stability) are correlated with political orientation. Specifically, liberals tend to score higher on experiential openness while conservatives tend to be strongly conscientious. Other evidence links politeness with conservatism and empathy with liberalism."
3. Did liberalism evolve?

Like most psychological traits, the moral dimensions are probably around 50% heritable - that is, around 50% of differences between people can be mapped down to (additive) genetic factors. The other half is labelled 'environmental' but that covers a multitude of factors including imprecision in testing as well as differential life experiences.

Most likely there have always been people who were more trusting and generally empathic to strangers. The Bible says "Blessed are the peacemakers", as if they were a scarce and unpopular resource, as doubtless they were in a clannish, herding honour culture.

4. Why is liberalism useful?

Liberalism is not that useful in a clannish environment - it marks you down as a victim and would tend to get selected against. However, with the birth of multi-ethnic countries/empires it becomes important to replace intergroup antagonisms with a generalised empathy underwritten by the uniformly and impartially applied rule of law.

This requires a fictive equality between citizens, which has to override negative responses to subgroup 'alien customs' and 'repulsive practices'.

Religion (with all its ingroup-outgroup faults) has historically provided the necessary all-encompassing ideology, but today in the west we have something even better - liberalism.

Cultivating selective blindness to individual and group differences is critical for elites to succeed in their unifying mission (they additionally require the intelligence to develop and apply laws, and to rule successfully). Liberals really are both nicer and smarter.

Henry Harpending observes.
"Gregory Clark, an economist at UC Davis, posted an essay several years ago titled Genetically Capitalist? in which he proposed that the stable social environment and institutions of Medieval England selected for a new kind of human who was less prone to violence, had an affinity for work, had low time preference, and was individualistic in several ways."
Greg Clark's work suggested that differential fertility amongst the ruling elite in England (and by extension Europe) resulted in the 'trickle down' of elite allele-frequencies, resulting in the gradual 'domestication' of the European population. This is just another way of capturing the increased prevalence of liberal, empathic values in the west.

So don't expect to see western norms in other world populations with different historical trajectories. The jury is still out as to whether the 'western genotype' actually improves long-term population fitness or not. As usual, look around and observe.

5. Is there something better than liberalism?

Many things are worse.
  • Inter-group pogroms; 
  • identifying groups with the excesses of their worst members; 
  • discrimination by ethnic group membership rather than individual performance.
Some things would be better.
  • Recognising that as a matter of fact, ethnic groups differ significantly on many psychological as well as physical traits and adjusting priors accordingly; 
  • not wasting time, money and invective on trying to attain impossible equal outcomes; 
  • public policy based on reality rather than wishful thinking.

Don't hold your breath. We live in a society composed of many different groups differentially ranked by wealth, intelligence, obesity, propensity to violence and so on. All these traits have some genetic component.

Any group publicly identified by policymakers as low on one of these morally-charged ranking scales is going to vociferously object, and the defence "It's true, here's the evidence" won't be worth a can of beans (as Scott Adams points out).

It's interesting that, as far as I can see, the only way to successfully run a modern capitalist democracy is on the basis of liberal self-deception. Seems the glue of 'religious' authority can't, in the end, be avoided.

And that's why Rod Liddle will stay in his box and not rule the world.

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