scales of justiceThinking about Evolution & Economics and Some Notes on the Natural Selection of Ideas

Part 5 - Moral sentiments, cooperation, trust & torts - The strange tale of successful differences and the arrogance of intelligent design

 Survival synergies which must be defended from parasites and predators

 And God said and I agree with him, 'Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil …' 

'Once upon a long time ago folk didn't realise that differences in bodies and behaviours and beliefs made the world go round. They all thought the giraffe's long neck was the miraculous 'intelligent design' work of the Gods, it was real real hard to figure out that the short necked giraffes had died out. It was all very difficult and folk couldn't understand … no wonder they found Gods behind every tree, busy doing all this intricate and incredibly complex design work. Stands to reason someone must be doing it, doesn't it? … but if the Gods were that clever how come they made folks so evil … after all, folk were purposeful and special, weren't they? … and what about those sucking parasites? and what about those tsunamis and all the bloody violence? It really was a puzzle.

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finish first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

Then slowly much much later Charlie Darwin** gave us all a clue, he suggested that everything and widgets had all evolved, the universe was not the clockwork of some intelligent designer and the Rev. Paley's** 'Watchmaker' was really really blind. Then the great experimenters like Mendel** and Watson** and Crick** lent a hand and the evidence mounted … random differences in DNA** differentially survive in a non random process of natural selection. No differences, no natural selection, no evolution, no new tricks, no anything. Now this is very strange for disciplined and purposeful minds in kilter and fine fettle. 

It seems that some differences in things like DNA molecules can replicate, differentially survive and develop in their environments and produce living biology bits!! These little tricks can themselves still further develop into super complicated and super effective chemistry tricks like nervous systems and brains which themselves evolve and accumulate more tricks like immunities, behaviours and languages and cultures ... and all these super extended tricks inevitably become part of a messy interconnected whole shebang & caboodle, part of the environment, thus exerting an influence over the replication success of the original DNA. DNA feeds back and manipulates itself!  

Phew! Now this must be a non linear** process where outcomes depend on unintended consequences of the unknowable DNA differences and responses. The whole is more than the sum of its parts and infuriatingly you can't solve the equations, maths can't help … if you see what I mean … read that last paragraph again ... this non linear thing is a bit awesome … 

Pierre Laplace** wrestled with this puzzle of incredibly complex design work in an intelligently designed clockwork universe. In Newton's** clockwork universe everything must be knowable otherwise it wouldn't be clockwork, would it? 

But then Henri Poincarré** frightened himself, and everyone else, to death with his mathematics. He demonstrated to the curious King Oscar** of Sweden that the usual explanation of a 'ghost in the machine' was a myth, not because there was no ghost but because there was no machine! René Descartes** had put 'de cart before de horse'.

Some folk think it would be jolly jolly if there was a thing called 'Society', where everyone agreed with the voice and could be prodded to say yes. But evolution must feed on a reality where everyone is different in body and behaviour and belief and 'Society' is you and I disagreeing … everyone must be different if evolution is to beaver on. Difference makes the world go round! But how can it be that folk must be different to make the world go round when the Soothsayers try to tell us everyone must behave and conform and pay their taxes?

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

The crunch was that if all folk were the same, new tricks would never be discovered, would they? There would be nothing new to discover … think about it ... ?

Adam the Smith and Dickie Dawkins thought about it, they didn't know much, they were dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants from the past … but what a view!

They were amongst the very few who inspected the view and contemplated. For them a penny did drop. But they were different don't forget! 

They both knew that the new tricks folk discovered were not magic; there was no supernatural omnipotent.

But Dickie was one up on Adam the Smith, he could learn from Charlie Darwin!

In 1976 Dickie wrote Chapter12 in 'The Selfish Gene'. Nice guys finish first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

Evolution had been beavering away long before poor folk appeared. He thought science, technology and all 'know how' were new tricks discovered by evolution, tricks which helped the genes to replicate, tricks which helped the phenotypes** to develop propitious strategies and immunities in a hostile environment, and super extended tricks like ideas which in turn helped the whole shebang & caboodle to survive ... it all gets very complicated, this strange Darwinian 'inversion of reason'.

Dickie thought of folk as survival vehicles for the genes … or perhaps new trick discovery systems would be a good call … you can't survive without new tricks … can you? and you can't think up new specials by yourself ... can you? Perhaps, like short necked giraffes, old tricks and bad manners died out in Ricardo's village ... ? and once good manners were deeply embedded in folk's skulls Tommy Jeffers then learned how to spread good manners to the wild west ... think about it?

Although differences make folk quarrel somewhat and it often gets all bloody it's clear that when folk trust and cooperate they are mighty ingenious and discover and accumulate new tricks all the time. But trust? ... where do good manners come from? Dickie knew that mitochondria cooperates with DNA to survive and the wolf packs cooperate to kill their prey ... domesticated animals are tame they don't survive if they are belligerent ... aggressive chickens died out long ago ... and perhaps us social folks in the village had to cooperate and lose our bad manners to survive ... and that left our bad manners for the belligerents ... so do you need your hand shakes to trade specials? ... no trust no trade ... no trade no survival ... think about it?

But years before Dickie Dawkins' genes & memes, years before Charlie Darwin's clue, at Adam's Forge the Smith astonishingly anticipated what made the world go round, he called it 'moral sentiments' ... Adam the Smith had written about 'innate moral sentiments' in 1759 ... he wrote two books -  

'Theory of Moral Sentiments' in 1759 - a universal human propensity for empathy and cooperation ...

'Wealth of Nations' in 1776 - a universal human propensity to truck, barter & exchange; it is profitable to cooperate with others you trust.

The Smith knew a thing or two about wealth, he knew wealth creation was a cooperative social affair underpinned by moral sentiments deep deep down in the skull ... but it was 1976 before Richard Dawkins explained an idea of genetic cooperation, Chapter 12 'Nice Guys Finish First' ... the 'nice behaviour' of tit for tat ... and genetic cost/benefit analysis ...

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

This is how it works in three easy stages, there maybe lots more than three but it's only a theory … however day by day the evidence mounts and the evidence is readily available … everywhere … and remember all 'know how' is only a theory which works, until a better theory comes along, what else can it be? Like everything else the human whole shebang & caboodle has evolved - systems have become more and complicated, more and more sophisticated, as new tricks are discovered and accumulated - think different tricks - think discovering new tricks - think of new tricks surviving in populations and think tricks that generate economic synergies - 2 + 2 = 5 

1. Biology - physicals and chemicals - everything interesting about folk starts with DNA chemistry, where else could it start? Instinctive behaviour evolved biologically over the aeons as 'hard wired' chemistry, widely spread in the population dynamic … (remember alternative instincts died out!) … perhaps the environment was full of hunter/gatherer groups where the pattern of behaviour may have been a bit primitive, typically - 

parasites grabbed goodies wherever and whenever they came along, they preyed on the DNA of others and maybe the extended tools of others

stocks of goodies were small or non-existent because there were so many threats and problems - hunger and subsistence, necessary mobile lifestyle, decay and disease, and of course thieves 

risk aversion was the norm as ubiquitous predators and parasites were bad news 
anyone with stocks must have stolen them, so those with 'wealth' must be predators or cheats … 

It seems stealing DNA goodies from others was an obvious survival strategy and this evolutionary niche was always full. predators and parasites always evolve. Their survival strategy is to become a better thief than their competitor … after all this is how the giraffe got its long neck … or is it? So worms steal leaves and birds steal worms and true to form our ancestors busied themselves stealing birds and the fruits, the nuts and the hog meat. Nature, red in tooth and claw survives … but where was this arms race going? The land flowing with milk and honey and oil, needs nurture, it was built through long years of evolution, is it really yours to steal? In any case there was always a problem - stealing is a zero sum game, you get your dinner or you lose your life! And if you eat too much, how do you replenish the stocks? 

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

2. Immunity - from theft and empty bellies - needless to say competitors in this hunter / gatherer niche were busy developing strategies to cope with these zero sum 'problems' of stock replenishment and competitive theft.

Don't get me wrong, these strategies were not the result of some erudite 'council of war', similar 'strategies' were developing long before folk could think … quite simply those folk who didn't develop new behavioural strategies started to die out … we've heard that before …two new tricks evolved - 'better' production and 'better' defence - 

'know how' and tools for cultivating crops and herding and breeding beasts produced more new stocks. Folk stopped rushing around the bush stealing and began to settle down by the rivers to grow corn and husband cows. DNA goodies like corn and cows were on hand in profusion. Bellies were full.

But treachery was also around, the endless stream of new tricks inevitably created opportunities for thieves to steal the fruits. A new niche had appeared for some parasite to occupy and the new stocks became a target for further predators … oh my … was there no place to hide? So it must be that new behaviour co-evolved in response to this threat. No sense in building stocks for the benefit of thieves is there? Such behaviour couldn't possible survive ... could it?

* protective immune systems must always develop to defend stocks from thieves. Otherwise there'd be no such things as stocks … would there? Some folk produce, some folk defend - the farmers and the warriors. Both essential cooperative specialisations. You can't have one without the other?

So it came to pass that defence systems evolved together with the valuable stocks of corn and cows, perhaps in exactly the same way as the body's immune system evolved to protect healthy goodies in the body from invading pathogen parasites.

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

3. Imagination - use your imagination and try, this long long tale goes on and on, and there was a great leap forward as the size of folks brains exploded ... more interconnections ,,, more different ideas ...

Suppose some bright spark of a competitor for the same evolutionary niche as you, happened to cooperate instead of steal … maybe both of you and more could live off synergistic production - 2 + 2 = 5. In the battle for survival, specialisation and cooperation can produce limitless helpful synergy tricks … remember the scientific revolution when technological innovation speeded up and new tricks spread like wildfire in the population … experiments in the imagination … not slow aeons of biology this time!

If there are differences and specialisations how can you stop synergies being discovered? ricardo's friends had shown the way, new tricks produced new stocks … in this way cooperative and defensive behaviour must have evolved otherwise folk wouldn't have had the stocks to sustain domestication and settlement in large communities ... would they?

But these cooperative ideas were not yet 'hard wired' and they were still spreading in the population dynamic … this new behaviour was counterintuitive and causing much confusion amongst the mob, very very strange - some folks with the stocks didn't steal them they 'produced' them -

goodies were created from new tricks, specialisation, trade and technological innovation and if the stocks were defended the tricks could be geared by investments 

risk seeking became an the evolving norm as folk rushed around trying to discover the synergies, 2 + 2 = 5 

and … from somewhere deep down in the skulls of folk … a cooperative consciousness was emerging … 

But it wasn't easy … nobody said it was easy … nobody 'thought it out' … it just happened?

Discovering new synergy tricks needs difference and being different is risky. Cooperation is risky. What happens if folk cheat? What happens if your blue eyes and blonde hair doesn't pull the boys? 

It really was all very difficult and remember most things that just happened just died! 

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

The cooperative consciousness, moral sentiments, was not so strange for Adam the Smith and cooperation was not so strange for Dickie, he'd seen it all before, and such behaviour was not new to mitochondria** … remember Eve's mitochondria specialises in the energy production needed for other cell occupants to specialise and supply the nutrients and the protection necessary for the replication of both more mitochondria and more cells ... totally interdependent … win win … contrary to the rumours mitochondria isn't a parasite! and more fascination … the immune system kills off parasitic bits but not useful bits. Can the complex chemistry of our immune system actually distinguish between good and evil, and then remember and provide lifelong immunity? … without thinking? Another mighty puzzle! Wow the wizardry of chemistry …! But come to think of it cooperation is not so strange to most folk either … have you tried to tie your shoe laces with one hand …?

So in this way evolution will tend to drive survival strategies towards cooperation - a synergistic game. It seems cooperation provides the synergies for successful survival in a competitive hostile world.

And if you think cooperation is risky try the alternative! 

So as expected, nettles sting, seeds are legion, deer run, lions bite, insects hide and folk throw spears … and bombs … and glory be … folk cooperate to exploit the trick synergies of specialisation and scale! Sure the new super tricks are often hard to grasp and counterintuitive but ... remember … usury was outlawed by the Gods in 1571 as foul exploitation … then just 50 years later in 1624 usury was inlawed because the hungry and afflicted needed a new trick for investment gearing … can evolution really work that fast? It certainly helps if there are synergy benefits which some folk cotton on to … but those with the tricks may have no stocks for investment and those with the stocks may have no tricks to invest in … infuriating these differences!

And it seemed in 1571 that the tyranny and oppression of the Bishops could kill off these tricks … especially if they were newfangled … well … they could delay them for a while with a spanner in the works … but not for long … evolution seemed to be speeding up ! 

So did the usury 'parasite' turn 'cooperator' just as mitochondria did a long long time ago … and this change was not hard chemistry like the adenosine triphosphate** of mitochondria … usury was a change in the imaginations of folks … but come to think of it a change in the imagination is a change in chemistry … after all … what else can it be?

And perhaps all the cooperative synergy networks in the new modern large scientific and industrial communities grew so rapidly that they are already global … without thinking... in this way cultural 'adaptation' races ahead of 'hard wired' biology … but remember the genes and their phenotypes with a propensity to adapt more quickly and flexibly will tend to survive. And what could be more flexible than folk's brains … ? Culture is not yet instinctive but it is certainly imaginative! Richard Dawkins, 'The Evolution of Evolvability -

''Evolution has no foresight. But with hindsight those evolutionary changes which look as if they were planned with foresight are the ones that dominate successful forms of life. It is cumulative selection that is evolutionarily interesting for only cumulative selection has the power to build up new progress on the shoulders of earlier generations of progress and hence the power to build formidable complexity of life'.

In our imaginations we can 'try out' alternative behavioural strategies, not as 'intelligent design' but as experiments to speed up evolution. Dickie knew the best strategy was unknowable, but he also knew adaptation to unforeseen events is the only way to avoid a premature death. 

For certain survival seems to be very difficult but the alternative is far less attractive !

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused. 

There's more … evolved survival strategies have to get even better all the time, there's no let up … the wizardry of chemistry can't be constrained … remember the stocks produced by specialisation and cooperation must be defended otherwise they will disappear in the night … so in this way folk who live in large societies that are based on the freedom to specialise, to trade and to technologically innovate, with private property and contractual exchange have no option but to try to confront those who choose not to cooperate and are hell bent on cheating. The old fogies were surmising quite rightly that youngsters were always trying to be different and if young studs wanted to pull the girls they needed to be different, they needed new tricks ... they had heard about the Peacock's tail ... and they suspected the girls did the choosing, they had read about mitochondrial eve ...

The difference quest even tempted the studs to rebel against the Tablets of Stone … after all their competitors for the girls were other young studs not the keepers of the Tablets … so for sure we all know most differences will end in tears but some differences will pull the girls … but no risk no win, like trying to win the lottery without buying a ticket … evolution favours those who risk differences because differences make the world go round … it is hardly surprising young studs risk being different … it's only old fogies who want conformity, isn't it?

The bottom line is that there are different ways for young studs to demonstrate their fatherhood credentials.

Different ways to display their capacity to accumulate stocks and to defend girls and their babies from predators … and some are cooperative and some are cheats … some ways are synergistic others zero sum … it all depends … so to avoid being cheated and conned some of the old fogies were now distinguishing between differences that made the world go round and differences that were harmful -

cooperative synergistic differences - maybe some girls are looking for demonstrations of the capacity to recognise patterns and the strength and agility to cooperate with team mates and produce results … on the sports field or in the music room? Maybe this is a competitive display of cooperative fitness synergies which everyone can marvel at and enjoy?

cheating zero sum differences - maybe some girls are looking for demonstrations of individual macho strength and fighting fitness through resilience to the chemicals in the crack dungeon … but there is little cooperation and little synergy with team mates and such free riders seem to take advantage of the freedom to choose without having to pay the cost of defending such freedom?

So it seems some behaviour differences can miss the big synergy prize … the perverse possibility is that although many have learned that cooperation brings benefits others still don't get it and the benefits vanish in the night when the cheats are not punished … it seems it is physically impossible to have cooperation without punishment, the chemistry is impossible … so the fogies surmised that it is not differences in folk that are the problem … it is the zero sum differences of the dominants and cheats that are the problem … 

So in this way visceral rules of thumb began to emerge to guide behaviour - if you are different and interact, search for synergies and there will tend to be pleasant consequences, otherwise don't interact 'cos if you interact and cheat there will tend to be unpleasant consequences.

We know how tommy jeffers identified some clever tricks to stop stealing by Bishops, Princes, Generals and bureaucratic majorities and all the other top pecks in the pecking orders … but how do you stop bog standard parasites from stealing? … all those cheating, free-riding, sponging, shirking parasites who take but don't contribute … sure many girls want to marry the handsome warriors who fight the dragons and are disdainful of the miserable whimps who run away … after all the girls must protect their babies … and sure many young studs aspire to be warriors … but there is a downside … the warriors must take the unpalatable risks of fighting … what a predicament … how uncomfortable … but it's bad news for the farmers as well … they can't run away … so are you and your son going to risk life and limb fighting the predators? … if not who is going to pay the warriors? … can't someone else do the dirty work and let us free ride? … wouldn't it be nice if parasites died off in the sun? … hysterical squirming and the burying of heads can't solve the problem … quick look the other way … but it won't go away … there's no place to hide … who is going to pay the warriors?

Maybe the warriors themselves could benefit from some new cooperative tricks? Is there a cheaper way to defend stocks from cheats other than fighting? Remember, Dickie always thought the genes did cost/benefit analysis! 

So it came to pass that new tricks evolved to cope with cheating that were far less expensive than fighting -

1. religious persuasion - this was a ubiquitous trick, teaching 'moral' behaviour encouraged cooperative synergies and furthermore the wrath of the purposeful Gods was enlisted to change the behaviour of folks and render the cheats frit ... ?

But alas cheaters are good at conning, otherwise they wouldn't cheat , would they? … and as expected cheating continued ...

2. law enforcement - the rules of cooperation became explicit when the tablets were written and stealing and cheating were outlawed and the elders arbitrated in the courts and the cheats were incarcerated and subjected to the ordeal ... ? 

But alas cheaters are good at conning, otherwise they wouldn't cheat , would they? … and as expected cheating continued ... 

3. scientific validation - later a clever scientific method emerged to try to convince and to change behaviour by logic and reason but strangely some folk still loved to believe in fairies and free lunches, and stealing was so tempting ... ?

But alas cheaters are good at conning, otherwise they wouldn't cheat , would they? … and as expected cheating continued ... 

So it seems that only when persuasion and law enforcement break down do the warriors risk expensive violence. Prisons and wars are a last resort because of horrific risks and costs … maybe the warriors are not so daft after all?

Could it be that moral behavioural norms, the rule of law and responsive violence evolved as cost effective tricks to deter predator and parasitic destruction?

Perhaps, as Dickie said, there is a biologically evolved emotion - 'the lust to be nice and be seen to be nice' - which encourages specialisation and cooperation and their synergistic fruits - the land of milk and honey and oil? 

But alas moral behavioural norms, the rule of law and responsive violence are not so cute when it comes to discovering new tricks - they are new tricks! 

However hard they tried folk eventually realised that they couldn't pass a law to secure wealth and happiness … such myths are the pipe dreams of Soothsayers - where are the defendants? If you are free to search for it, who do you blame for the absence of a cure for the lurgi ?

New tricks must be discovered.

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused.

Don't get me wrong, all these clever strategies are not 'intelligent design' but simply surviving behavioural patterns. Folk who didn't behave this way began to lose the battles and died out … sorry I'm repeating myself!

Our ancestors were different, they took on the risks of cooperation and the risks of defence of the stocks ... otherwise they wouldn't have discovered new tricks ... and they wouldn't have any stocks ... and they wouldn't have surviving descendants like you and me. 

In a very real sense we have no choice but to adapt and when benefits accrue we have no choice but to defend them against predators & parasites. 

Many still aspire to be top peck and dominant and have the pick of the girls and impose their 'purpose' on Joe Sixpack but it is a poor strategy because more and more folk will desperately want to be free from such tyranny and oppression so they can specialise and discover their own new tricks. Crowd trouble soon emerges. 

Those who choose to contribute and discover must always defend their stocks from dominant predators and the cheating parasites. Either way more of the boys are slowly learning that it is the new tricks that attract the girls not stolen property.

But then Dickie always knew the girls liked new tricks, he knew about the Peacock's tail?

And the best trick of all … the evolution of the moral sentiments of interactions becomes meaningful … is 'good' the synergistic cooperative creation, 2 + 2 = 5 ? ... is 'evil' the zero sum parasitic destruction, 2 - 2 = 0 ?

So in this way can we distinguish between synergistic cooperation and parasitic destruction, between the defensive bullet and the offensive bullet, between freedom fighters and terrorists, between good and evil … ? So contribute and don't cheat! And to contribute you must be different … but be careful … cooperate with folk who are different … but punish folk who cheat … if you don't you'll be dead ... won't you?

The penny didn't drop. Nice guys finished first but folk got all mixed up, conned and confused. 

But when the evidence changes, I change my mind … what do you do?

However Adam the Smith had no need of scientific biological explanations of brain chemistry & Darwinian evolution, he could feel the reality of moral sentiments in his head ... so can all folk ... centuries ago the Jews called it a bad conscious ... then the Quakers called it the inner light ...

Different folk at different times in different places have different ideas and behave differently ... girls dance backwards ... celebrate diversity the feedstock of evolutionary change.

Diversity in social animals is mediated by universal biology, innate empathy; Adam the Smiths 'moral sentiments' underpin the vast scale of human productive interactions. And Adam the Smith knew that to protect minorities from the bureaucratic kludge, parasites & predators, tyranny & oppression, bribery & corruption of Dominants & Mercantilos all social animals voted with their feet & joined clubs of their choice with their friends. And Clubs seemed to be everywhere. And everywhere all the folk clubs seemed to have rules of behaviour which involved natural biological systems -

everywhere universal moral sentiments seemed to nurture cooperation and synergies of specialisation & scale

everywhere tit for tat immune systems seemed to cope with parasites & predators and increase the synergy contributions.

Global biological, social and economic interactions are so diverse and complex and dynamic that it is physically impossible for any Nation State to mediate between them effectively through incorporation which was a pipedream, through regulation which stifled competition, bribes to interest groups and commands & controls of productive endeavour, in the name of unattainable solidarity, security & stability. Such hubris, never achievable, would impossibly stop evolution in its tracks. Insights from biology lead inexorably to understanding economics ... not in impossibly complex detail but as a process of change ... genes do cost/benefit analysis.

NB 'the serpent beguiled me and I did eat … he that hath ears to hear let him hear … the price of wisdom is above rubies …'

and Mathew Chapter 14 verse 31 … read Chapter 12 'Nice Guys Finish First' in 'The Selfish Gene', Richard Dawkins 1976.

** Darwin, Paley, Laplace, Newton, Poincarré, Descartes, Mendel, Watson and Crick, DNA, mitochondria, adenosine triphosphate, phenotypes and non-linearity all feature in the modern writings on evolution - try 'The Extended Phenotype' by Richard Dawkins and 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' by Daniel Dennett ... ... and don't forget Adam the Smith, read 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments', and read it before you read 'The Wealth of Nations' ...

john p birchall

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