All posts tagged: fear

War, xenophobia and other downsides to group selection | Evolutionary logic pt.II

“the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly”

If anyone managed to come away from Part I: Humans: not just selfish with an overly sentimental view of human nature, this post will rob you of that delusion.  Yes, we humans have a remarkably developed faculty for cooperation and group-oriented behavior, in comparison to most other species.  That’s an encouraging thing to know.  And it may even become useful, if you start to identify the conditions that tend to set us up for cooperation.  However, as Charles Darwin, David Sloan Wilson, and many others have suggested, the processes of group selection that helped us evolve to be cooperative within our groups probably also encouraged competition (to put it mildly) between groups.

Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson explain in their book, Unto Others:

…our goal … is not to paint a rosy picture of universal benevolence. Group selection does provide a setting in which helping behavior directed at members of one’s own group can evolve; however, it equally provides a context in which hurting individuals in other groups can be selectively advantageous. Group selection favors within-group niceness and between-group nastiness. Group selection theory does not abandon the idea of competition that forms the core of the theory of natural selection…

And here’s Wilson again in The New Fable of the Bees: Multilevel Selection, Adaptive Societies, and the Concept of Self Interest:

[Multilevel selection theory] has the capacity to explain the behavior of individuals who demonically work to undermine their groups (within-group selection), individuals who angelically work on behalf of their groups (the bright side of among-group selection) and avenging angels who work on behalf of their groups to destroy other groups (the dark side of among-group selection). We might not like the dark sides of animal and human nature, but they exist and require a theory to explain them. …multilevel selection theory has the potential to explain the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

Why do you build me up, buttercup, just to let me down and mess me around?  Seriously though, this just underscores that the purpose of this series is to use the lens of evolutionary theory not to idealize but to examine and better understand how humans and groups work, particularly in relation to collective action – and hopefully make practical use of that understanding.

Stephen Colbert is physically altering your brain

originally published on October 28, 2010

Stephen Colbert’s much-publicized March to Keep Fear Alive tomorrow-and his whole schtick really-may be making a far greater political impact than you consciously realize.  I’m no neuroscientist, but I might even argue that the faux right-wing pundit is physically altering the very structure of your brain.

Such an outlandish allegation requires a little set-up. Ready for an adventure into the political brain?

Let’s start with rats.

In a brilliant Radiolab episode called Memory and Forgetting (I highly recommend listening to the first 21 minutes here), hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss a memory experiment with rats.  They play an audio tone for a rat, just before giving it a slight electrical shock. Predictably, the next time the tone is played, the rat reacts. Here’s Jad:

The moment it hears the tone and then feels the shock, inside its head a bunch of neurons start to build a connection… Memory is a structure that connects one brain cell to another.  So the next time that the rat hears that damn tone, since inside its brain tone brain cells are physically connected to shock brain cells, it’s gonna know that after this [tone sound plays] comes this [shock sound effect plays].  Instead of just listening passively, it’s gonna freeze, bracing itself for what is about to happen.

The Stakes in this Election: Incredibly High | Mike Lux discusses “The Progressive Revolution”

originally published on October 20, 2010

Welcome to the second interview in our series.  This week we feature progressive organizer, strategist, blogger, and author Mike Lux.  Mike is the CEO of Progressive Strategies, the Co-founder of Open Left, and he has been active for thirty years on many progressive issues.

Mike is the “outsider’s insider.”  He has one foot in the door (having worked on five presidential campaigns, and having served in the Clinton White House health care reform war room), and he has the other foot on the outside (having worked on many issue advocacy campaigns and on building independent progressive infrastructure).

Mike wrote a book called The Progressive Revolution which looks at the threads of conservative and progressive thought and action in the United States since the Declaration of Independence.

Listen to the full interview with Mike Lux here:

Read the full interview here:

The Centrality of Fear in Right-wing Hegemony

originally published on September 11, 2010

Paul Rosenberg nailed it yesterday in his article on Taxes & Terrorism (Open Left):

…the basis of conservative politics is fear.  The basis of liberal politics is reason.  The conservative try to flood the zone with fear, so that people can’t think straight . . . If the GOP can turn anything into a flashpoint of fear, then they can keep on repeating it, and all thought shuts down–perhaps not for everyone, but for enough. But for them to be really secure, they need the Democrats to buy into their logic as well.  Once the Democrats are gripped with fear, and unwilling to talk about a given issue, then that issue belongs to the GOP.  Their position on it doesn’t have to make any sense.  Making sense is beside the point.  The point is scaring people.  The point is, in a word, terrorism.

As today is September 11, it’s fitting to address the subject of fear – especially considering the chorus of stupid that’s been ringing from Gainsville to Manhattan.