Social Evolution Forum Robin I.M. Dunbar “Networking Past and Present”
Social Evolution Forum Nicholas Baumard “The Evolution of Cooperation: from Networks to Institutions”
Social Evolution Forum Herbert Gintis “Commentary on Dunbar and Baumard”
Some interesting stuff here:
- We may no longer live in fission-fusion tribes, but we still move around a lot socially (changing family partnerships, looking for new jobs, joining new associations) to find optimal partners with whom to cooperate.
- While we know that people have more “fragmented” social networks, these networks are also more intertwined and overlapping than ever before. We do not fully understand how this increased integration affects social cooperation.
- Dunbar asserts that his “Dunbar’s Number” of friends is not comparable to Facebook friends; funny to see this obvious fact pointed out by the originator of this concept!
- While our opportunities for increasing the size of our social network have greatly increased, the amount of “social capital” that we have to spend on these potential relationships has remained constant; for this reason, trying to maintain more relationships (regardless of what technological aids we employ) comes at a cost to the quality of each relationship. There’s only so much of our social selves that each of us have to spread around.
- Genetic changes are unlikely to keep up with changes in our culture; our brains are unlikely to evolve in response to increased social demands.
- To overcome our social limitations and maintain the benefits of social cooperation, we need to experiment with new social systems. The previous hierarchical systems of state and/or religion may have serious drawbacks and thus may not provide a good model. Perhaps a less hierarchical system could work?
- Modern society has a number of mechanisms to allow our reputation to be broadcast to the larger social groups to which we belong (credit scores, job references, LinkedIn), which might overcome the scale problems that challenge present-day cooperation.
- We have many institutions designed to aggregate interests and promote large-scale cooperation; so long as these institutions produce fair and reasonably equitable outcomes, they can maintain cooperation.
- The role of punishment is still controversial. While some research on hunter-gatherers suggests that altruistic punishment is rarely employed, other research suggests that punishment is important within tribal cultures. Behavioral experiments suggest that individuals are willing to maintain agreed-upon standards of fair play by punishing transgressors, even if enacting this penalty also costs the punisher.
- Are humans other-regarding or self-regarding? Experts on human cooperation disagree, and each side bears the burden of explaining how their respective view of human nature could evolve. Both sides rely on explanations related to culture, but invoke very different cultural factors in supporting their contentions.
- Voting could be considered a form of “irrational” other-regarding behavior, as it is hard to explain from a purely self-regarding perspective. Voting has the potential to create a more successful group, but this is the only benefit to the individual voting.
One of the issues that I find fascinating coming out of this discussion is not the question of whether humans are innately other-regarding or self-regarding, but what proportion of other-regarding individuals a society can maintain. There are a lot of selfish jerks out there, but I would maintain that these selfish jerks do not massively destabilize society because: 1) our form of cooperation is so successful that it can tolerate a fair amount of parasitism; and 2) while they may be successful economically, the jerks do not have high cultural fitness, and it is shifts in cultural fitness that determine the direction of society.