A Nation of Hives

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 08:57 pm
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
[personal profile] flwyd
When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.

Date: 2017-05-21 06:34 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Oh, damn, I'm going to have to start giving Haidt more credit again.

Date: 2017-05-25 06:39 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea

I mostly liked his moral foundations paradigm, but he didn't seem to understand what he was looking at among WEIRDs. He observed that they (we) didn't endorse two/three of the foundations as legitimate moral bases, but he concluded that was because that population lacks appreciation of them. The idea that there could be a culture in the world that explicitly teaches, "Yes, you may feel that way, but those are illegitimate bases for morality", and adopted, as a principled position, the rejection of those foundations as a meta-moral, apparently never crossed his mind? He made the fundamental attribution error, and assumed that if a population didn't agree, it was because they had an essential lack of ability. In addition to being a logical fallacy, it also is eyebrow-raisingly ignorant of cultural history. We had something called the Enlightenment; I would have thought he'd heard of it.

He also seems to have missed some prominent examples of what he claims WEIRDs don't do among WEIRDs, the most mentioned across the internet is the quip that if he thinks liberals don't do purity as a moral foundation, he's never met a militant vegan.

He also seems to spend a lot of time explaining to liberals how they should take pains to understand conservatives; I've yet to see him exhorting conservatives to understand liberals. His not-as-even-as-it-first-appears assumption seems to be that, clearly, conservatives understand all five possible bases of morality so they understand liberals just fine, whereas liberals don't understand some of the five possible bases of morality, so they not only must not understand conservatives' concerns, they have some sort of responsibility to do so, which either conservatives don't share or which he feels conservatives have adequately acquitted already. This makes me substantially doubt his handling of his biases.

That said, I also share some of his exasperation with liberals' ignorances, so I do cut him some slack. I have a big post I'm cooking up about problems with liberals' moral reasoning, so I don't want to throw too many stones. I think he and I are both groping if not the same elephant, very similar ones.

Date: 2017-05-21 10:22 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I greatly prefer this element of Haidt's work to his "political ideologies are natural temperaments through self-reporting" claims. His use of David Sloan Wilson's work is fascinating.

Date: 2017-05-21 10:23 am (UTC)
sravakavarn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sravakavarn
this was me. sorry.

Date: 2017-05-21 06:32 pm (UTC)
amaebi: black fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] amaebi
Thanks-- I hadn't run into this line of thought before.

Date: 2017-05-23 10:33 pm (UTC)
slyviolet: (Coincidences)
From: [personal profile] slyviolet
I'm very curious about the distinction of hive behavior from that of primate social behavior, because in my (albeit limited) knowledge of primates, they too display the traits described here with regard to groups in competition and forming strong internal bonds... What are the traits of human hive behavior that distinguish it from that observable in primates? Is it the scale? The ability to "bond" with the group as a whole without the need to bond with each individual? (Really wishing I had an Eddie Izzard 'covered in beeeees' icon right about now.)
Edited Date: 2017-05-23 10:33 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-05-25 07:51 pm (UTC)
slyviolet: (Spidey Loves You!)
From: [personal profile] slyviolet
Okay, that makes sense and is what I was trying to describe with my "ability to bond with the group as a whole without the need to bond with each individual," roughly.
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