Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Have we outgrown the scale of cooperation supported by the Big Gods of Big Religion?

Posted 08 Sep 2015 / 0

CliodynamicaFrom Big Gods to the Big Brother

There are a bunch of really interesting ideas in this post, particularly related to the challenges associated with scaling up cooperation. As Turchin nicely points out, once you get past the tribal scale reputation alone — even fueled by the power of gossip — is not going to be enough to maintain social trust and social cohesion. So “Big Gods” provide us with the universal norms that we can have relatively strong faith in. Of course the problem, as we have seen over many centuries of recent human history, is that religions produce not just larger-scale in-groups but also comparably large out-groups. And that means conflict.

Does that mean that we have outgrown the cooperative benefits of religion? Perhaps, and Turchin suggests that it is the legal mechanisms of large-scale nation-states that have replaced religion. This is a hypothesis that merits further exploration. To what degree is religion no longer necessary to cooperation? Would a purely atheist nation-state be able to maintain the same social cohesion as a nation-state that included a large religious contingent? What about the existence of multiple religions within a nation-state? Does the establishment of a state religion create a more stable society? And to what degree are other reputational and norm-based mechanisms of human cooperation — independent of states and religions — responsible for the relative stability of current-day human societies?

Turchin’s piece provokes all these interesting questions.

A Minor Post, Altruism, Behavior, Belief, Cooperation, Cultural Evolution, Group Selection, History, Human Uniqueness, Multilevel Selection, Punishment, Religion, Reputation, Social Norms, Web

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