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11 September 2007 @ 10:31 pm
Controversy: Subjugation as a Means of Evolutionary Survival.  
This essay introduces an idea which many will find controversial, disturbing and even "offensive". Most of the people on my Friends list are capable of thinking like grown-ups, however. Others should be forewarned.

This thought-exercise was inspired by his post in mr_reed's journal, which refers to the concept that, when one culture is conquered by another, the politically-subjugated one is often the victor on the only level that counts in terms of evolution -- that of its replicators, genes and memes. Specifically: the two groups hybridize genetically, and the genes of the "loser" often predominate in number and influence; and the cultural memes of the "loser" are also absorbed into the "victor", transforming its culture in significant ways.

It then crossed my mind: Is it possible that being conquered could be an evolutionary survival strategy?

Mind you: I am not saying that being conquered, subjugated and colonized is, in any way, beneficial for people, nor that people consciously want or seek it. It is plainly a very unpleasant and undesirable thing for all human beings in such positions. I am saying, rather, that it may benefit not the people themselves, but the information they bear and transmit, or some parts of it. From the point of view of a replicator, the only purpose of a person is to make more replicators.

Now, let me start by saying that on a practical level, societies have conquered others primarily through having higher levels of technological and military proficiency. For the most part, they just plain beat them. And the primary reason for why some cultures have such higher levels has been explained quite clearly by writers such as Jared Diamond in his Guns, Germs and Steel: they happened to evolve in environments that made such technical adaptations possible and advantageous. Granted that Diamond overlooks the possibility that the different environments also led to biological adaptations,which may in turn have also affected the rate of technical development, but his overall thesis is quite sensible: If you live in a place that has stuff to make technology with, and you also have reasons to do so, you will probably make technology.

Now, there are replicators which survive by promoting further evolution. One may call them pro-evolutionary replicators. These include memes such as a cultural belief in the value of learning and advancement, openness to change, etc. There are replicators which serve the converse function, to slow down the rate of change and stabilize it. And there are even counter-evolutionary replicators, ones which seek to preserve themselves by blocking further change, promoting inertia and regression.

Is it possible that, under some conditions, a group's replicators may lead that group to hold back its own advancement, making itself vulnerable to conquest -- for the sake of the selfish replicators? Indeed, might it be possible that some societies in history have actively invited conquest by others, sending a "come hither and get me" signal like a female spider in her alluring web, waiting for a mate to devour?

Let me repeat once again, and clearly, that this is not conscious on the part of the actual people involved, and it is most definitely not what they "want". It is a case of behavior being unconsciously driven by genes and/or memes -- in human terms, by instinct, habit, conditioning, superstition and the like, deeply-embedded metaprograms of thought and behavior.

Consider that, on the level of individual animals, submissive behavior evolved along with dominant behavior, and complementary to it. Submissive behavior serves an adaptive purpose, otherwise it would have vanished a long time ago (as it is not particularly enjoyable for its own sake, for most people). Could not a similar mechanism apply on the level of groups?

If so, where, when, and under what conditions would it arise? Well, as stated above, what is "adaptable" in any given case depends ultimately on the environment, which for humans includes both the physical and social environment. A group's environment includes its neighbors, and hence their replicators.

It is extremely unlikely that a "come and get me" strategy would have evolved in total isolation. Vitalist though I am, I would not attribute to replicators that level of prescience. More likely, rather, it evolves in situations where a) the group has neighbors and b) is already weaker than some of its neighbors for various other, and unrelated. reasons. If replicators "discover" that they can effectively get passed on in and through the conquest of their unfortunate hosts, they will probably "try" to repeat the performance somehow. (Or, speaking less Vitalistically: the replicators which do support such transmission will get transmitted more.) For memes, this can begin to occur within the course of one generation, while for genes it will take much longer.

The more times a group's descendants get bashed, the more this pattern will be reinforced, and the process will snowball. Losers beget losers. The only winners, in the long run, are the replicators.

If there is any truth to this hypothesis, it does indeed lend a dark and grim view to human history. But that is not a reason to avoid considering it.
Current Mood: Natural. 100% natural.
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Etheleona, Preoperative Posthumaninsert_nanotech on September 13th, 2007 12:42 am (UTC)
For a scientific and empirical approach to memetic evolution, look at the works of Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore, the most well-known theorists in the field.

If you're not interested in this, though, that's fine. I don't expect everybody to pay attention to everything I post (particularly since often I use this journal for note-taking and scribbling my unwashed theories and hypotheses.)
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Etheleona, Preoperative Posthumaninsert_nanotech on September 13th, 2007 01:14 am (UTC)
A central facet of the theory, however, is that memes (and even genes) do act independently of the individuals who bear them. The basic text in regard to this is Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, in which he explains how genes promote their own survival through any means that are effective, regardless of whether it benefits the individual organism. For example, some herd animals are biologically driven to sacrifice themselves to preserve the genes of their siblings, which are copies of their own genes (kin selection.)
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Etheleona, Preoperative Posthumaninsert_nanotech on September 13th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
Does he talk about genes, or memes as independant basic building blocks of ideas? (Poorly phrased, but you get the idea.)

He talks about genes and memes each on their own level. Blackmore deals more with memes. I should note that neither author attributes consciousness or spiritual meaning to these things; they regard them strictly as information.

And, as for the rest -- I agree with you, actually. My theory is a descriptive, not a normative one. It is about what can happen, and, if the theory is correct, what likely has happened in some historical occurrences. It does not say that this must always happen, nor that it ought to happen.

The mechanisms of thought will be such that we are able to regulate it with conscious intervention, unlike sets of genes, which we are born with.

Exactly. And that is what makes such theories useful. If we can become consciously aware of such patterns, we can do something to change them. We can rewrite our own programs -- but we must know what they are first. I am not claiming a strict determinism here in which people are inevitably no more than pawns of impersonal processes. Since we are conscious, we are participants in such processes. We shape the world through our Will even as we are a part of it.

Also, I am certainly not advocating that people ought to continue pursuing self-detrimental behavior, or that this should be used as an excuse for exploitation. I am merely trying to analyse the mechanisms by which it happens. If you understand how something works, then you can learn how to make it work for you, rather than the other way around. That is my basic standpoint.

(And... as to the idea that someone might unconsciously pursue defeat...... you're asking a Hitler lookalike?.....) =)
Inertiacidemr_reed on September 14th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
An interesting notion.

It dose seem to be an observable phenomenon. An interesting qualifier to it is that it is not universal between races: it seems as though this subjugator-is-subjugated quality is predominately exercised among indo-European populations. When it comes to degrees of likeness, indo-Europeans are historically unprecedented in their assimilation practices. They have this will to exert themselves and expand, but unlike other peoples, they don’t completely obliterate the inhabitants of conquered lands. There is always a degree if tribal infighting among any race, but rarely to the point of extermination. It is only when a foreign element is largely unlike that this happens. Except with indo-Europeans, who, perhaps because of their historical inclinations towards individual importance, rarely obliterate, ethnically cleanse, etc.

It’s funny: the previous sentence would seem completely off its rocker to most people today. We are told over and over again how evil the white man is because of the Indians and the Jews and slavery and colonialism and so forth, but this is only because these subjugated groups were allowed to survive, and thus speak on their own behalf. When non-IE’s have a conflict with an unlike foreign group they seek annihilation: none are left to defend themselves; whereas IE’s think to find some use for them.

The IE’s importance on the individual makes this a (perhaps ani-) survival mechanism. The will of genes or memes are socially oppressed to an extent that active choice of the individual is made the ruler. Well, not entirely: memes are constructed to support this oppression, which spells out the thinning and eventual elimination of the dominant ethno-cultural pool, whilst giving the individual the illusion of active choice. I should say that healthy memes—that is, those designed to support unique genetic continuity—are oppressed.

The foundational indo-European people of ancient Greece and Rome took great importance in heritage, believing blood and culture were concomitant. Yet they allowed outsiders, during the later parts of their influence, to not only live among them but retain their own ethno-culture to some extent. Perhaps it is because of this that we have the notion today of diversity being a great strength: our own ethno-culture has been deluded from the beginning so we have no sense of hereditary rootedness, thus lending our fancy to foreigners who do.

I’ll be meeting in the near future with the author of the book whose excerpt in my journal inspired this idea. I’m sure this is a subject he’d like to discuss. If it comes up I’ll be sure to give you a synopsis of the conversation.
Etheleona, Preoperative Posthuman: Who says they don't build them like theyinsert_nanotech on September 15th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
I think you are talking here more about the self-defeating strategies of the subjugators rather than the self-promoting strategies of the subjugated, or their replicators. That is, "winning to lose" vs. "losing to win".

The "losing to win" strategy is possible only when it is possible to "throw a fight", which implies that the fight might be either avoided or won, but the party in question "chooses" to put himself in a losing position instead. I need to write more on this notion, as I have additional ideas (but fingers, alas, are in bad shape.)

As for Western individualism -- consider that the "individual" is itself a very potent attractor. One around which social reality was increasingly organized from the Renaissance period to the twentieth century. Individualism appears to be undergoing a backlash now, but I consider this temporary.

I should note, I myself am a radical individualist (like Emerson) and also a Cladist -- that is, I believe each level of social scale (individual, couple, family, tribe, community, city, nation, etc.) possesses its own functional autonomy within the evolutionary process. Personally, I believe that "smaller" units are of equal worth and meaning as larger ones, and value cannot be judged by size. Sometimes an individual will stand alone against a crowd. A member of a couple will defend his lover against the whole society. A minority will resist the majority. Sometimes evolution is on the individual's side, and sometimes on the side of some group. (This, incidentally, is why I am a libertarian and National Anarchist rather than a National Socialist.)

Here is my previous post on Scale-Free Reciprocity, which gives a brief expression of this. (Most of the stuff in this journal is just notes.)

You seem to be taking an anti-individualist position, mr_reed. One thing I've always wanted to ask anti-individualists: How can you, as an individual, justify a philosophical or political position which is contrary to your own self-interest? And, what argument can you give to persuade others that they should abandon their self-interest in favor of something that will not benefit them, even in the long term? I can understand serving my tribe if it is to my ultimate benefit in some way (which includes passing on my replicators to future generations.) This is the basis of Scale-Free Reciprocity. But, it seems to me that asking an individual to do what is contrary to that individual is like asking a group to do what is contrary to that group. What is the difference between the two cases?

I'm curious about what anti-individualists think of this, so I'd appreciate hearing your views. Also, yes, I'd like to hear what the author of the book has to say about my theory.
Inertiacidemr_reed on September 16th, 2007 07:52 am (UTC)
Well, firstly let me point out that individualism and individuality are wholly different things.

Individualism is a political-economic doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount. I disagree with this because it’s paradoxical. An individual can only exist in a habitable external environment, and if individual interests take precedence over environmental ones and the interests of enough individuals forgoes environmental concerns (as they do today), there is a serious risk of objective habitability for all. When people start dying because of resource scarcity, individualism, like other liberal ideologies, disappears. Also, an individual is more likely to survive in a group—and more so an organized, like-minded group—and if the cohesion of the group is threatened by conflicting individualisms, the group benefit is lost.

The only point at which radical individualism works is when a society is made up of Emerson’s, Nietzsche’s and Kaczynski’s. But such people are the extreme exception, not the rule; most people who live in society need others to tell them what to do in order to live a meaningful life. They need direction. Without is they buy junk, consume endlessly and live pointless lives.

The doctrine is also far too human centric. It considers only the needs of individual human beings and cares little for other animal or plant life—only insofar as they can be exploited for the individual interest, which reduces them to object. This makes individualism inherently speciesist as well.

I am against individualism; for individuality. The expressions of ones own true, distinct personal character is a healthy natural thing that I would encourage anyone to explore. It has nothing to do with holding ones own personal interests paramount. I might actually suggest that working within the rules of a healthy societal structure provides the individual with a better means of expressing who they truly are. And that working to secure the greatest collective good in the long-term, with eventual trickle-down benefits to the individual, is more desirable in the sense of genetic continuity than immediate individualist satisfaction because it provides a more secure and sustainable framework for future generations.

I have no argument to persuade someone to abandon their own self-interests. Not really. What I would argue for is that higher quality people exert their own interests, ideas and genetic information over others, and to practice social structures that encourage this. This isn’t to say I’d dissuade lower grade people from competing—I’m all for a fair contest in that respect: let the best individuals, the best ideas, triumph. It’s when structures are made to give the lower grade people protection and advantage that I’ll protest.

Higher quality people make higher quality production; lower quality people, conversely. Better quality benefits all. We live on a planet with limited resources. If low quality people are allowed advantage over these resources, coupled with incontinent breeding practices, the notion of “higher quality” itself will be depressed.

Come to think of it, perhaps radical individualism would be useful in weeding out so-called undesirables. The wise will suffice with anarchy, at least for a while; the rest will fall into chaos, eventually undoing themselves and the structures they support (for an interesting perspective on this idea, check out comic V for Vendetta by Alan Moore). But this is an extreme case that comes at a very high environmental cost and could be avoided with greater collective interest including a more holistic worldview for those who are unexceptional and drunk on individualism and self-importance.

If a group has a good idea and an individual’s interest within that group conflict with it, the individual should be removed for the good of the group. Really, I wouldn’t ask an individual to do what is contrary to them (well, I might ask, but I wouldn’t expect them to do it.) Rather I would ask like-minded people of high quality and good ideas to create their own exclusive groups, secure borders in order to do things the way they like, become self-reliant and to always discriminate.