Saturday, September 04, 2010

This is not going to end well? Or, Chaos or Community

Barbara at her Buddhism blog, commented on a  post Nella Lou at Smiling Buddha Cabaret published on the recent events by the atavist right.

Barbara says:

NellaLou's post is about identity politics in contemporary America, and I don't want to wade too deeply into politics on this blog. But it seems to me that American politics has gone beyond mere "identity" and slid all the way into "tribal." And loyalty to one's tribal talking points displaces all facts and reason. This is not going to end well.

NellaLou's post is quite a bit longer, and I for one thought the situation with Glenn Beck et al. was so obviously what it was that I did not give the matter much thought on my blog.   
However,  as I've noted, this thing of dividing into "us and them"  goes well beyond the right-wing fringe; if I mention that a significant part of the Tibetan Independence movement, as well as Zionism, as well as the Palestinian cause has strains of racism in it, I will get some verbal lashings, even if the proof is irrefutable 9 ways 'til Sunday.  And that's due to an issue I have talked about already.  But I want to go a tiny bit further in this post.

For those  who have not read Richard Dawkins' latest two books, I would wholeheartedly  recommend them.  Of relevance to this post is a passage in The God Delusion where Dawkins alludes to the fact that it is to a group of organisms's genes benefit to collaborate.   This is also mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Game Theory:

It is because of this that there is coopeation between groups of animals, including those who are non-human (and, as Dawkins mentions, lack any kind of overt religious practices or beliefs that we can discern.)  From Wikipedia:

Additionally, biologists have used evolutionary game theory and the ESS to explain the emergence of animal communication (Harper & Maynard Smith 2003). The analysis of signaling games and other communication games has provided some insight into the evolution of communication among animals. For example, the mobbing behavior of many species, in which a large number of prey animals attack a larger predator, seems to be an example of spontaneous emergent organization. Ants have also been shown to exhibit feed-forward behavior akin to fashion, see Butterfly Economics.
Biologists have used the game of chicken to analyze fighting behavior and territoriality.[citation needed]
Maynard Smith, in the preface to Evolution and the Theory of Games, writes, "[p]aradoxically, it has turned out that game theory is more readily applied to biology than to the field of economic behaviour for which it was originally designed". Evolutionary game theory has been used to explain many seemingly incongruous phenomena in nature.[5]
One such phenomenon is known as biological altruism. This is a situation in which an organism appears to act in a way that benefits other organisms and is detrimental to itself. This is distinct from traditional notions of altruism because such actions are not conscious, but appear to be evolutionary adaptations to increase overall fitness. Examples can be found in species ranging from vampire bats that regurgitate blood they have obtained from a night's hunting and give it to group members who have failed to feed, to worker bees that care for the queen bee for their entire lives and never mate, to Vervet monkeys that warn group members of a predator's approach, even when it endangers that individual's chance of survival.[6] All of these actions increase the overall fitness of a group, but occur at a cost to the individual.
Evolutionary game theory explains this altruism with the idea of kin selection. Altruists discriminate between the individuals they help and favor relatives. Hamilton's rule explains the evolutionary reasoning behind this selection with the equation c[6] The coefficient values depend heavily on the scope of the playing field; for example if the choice of whom to favor includes all genetic living things, not just all relatives, we assume the discrepancy between all humans only accounts for approximately 1% of the diversity in the playing field, a co-efficient that was ½ in the smaller field becomes 0.995. Similarly if it is considered that information other than that of a genetic nature (e.g. epigenetics, religion, science, etc.) persisted through time the playing field becomes larger still, and the discrepancies smaller.

 From a cold Game Theoretic perspective both conflict and altruism are stable, providing  a critical mass buys into either alternative, according to Dawkins, and it seems intuitively correct to posit that.

 The fact is, it is to some few folks advantage to have people fight amongst themselves if they can maintain control of the game (which involves fostering the odd kind of belief amongst the masses of people that they are in the "few.")
But we are all nothing special.  We can have community prevail over chaos if we accept each other unreservedly, no matter what their beliefs or level of hostility (though that does not mean being completely helpless or that one should not defend one's self and others when needed).

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