December 2, 2009

I BELIEVE THAT ILYA SOMIN MISTAKES MY POINT: “Some, like Glenn ‘Instapundit’ Reynolds in his response to my earlier post, argue that we need ‘irrational affection’ for government in order for it to work well. I am skeptical. A population that values its government for purely instrumental reasons can still give it the necessary support and defend it against external enemies.”

I don’t think this quite responds to my point. I was suggesting that, in an evolutionary sense, a state whose populace feels irrational loyalty is more likely to prevail against states whose populaces are purely rational. This doesn’t strike me as much of a leap. A parent who values a child for purely instrumental reasons can still give it the necessary support, but I suspect that evolution has favored those who feel irrational loyalty to their kinfolks, too.

Furthermore, a state whose populace feels irrational loyalty probably has greater threat-value when dealing with states whose populace is only rationally loyal. This is not a defense of nationalism on any sort of moral grounds, of course — merely a suggestion that efforts to get rid of it will be difficult. This is particularly true if, as seems likely to me, evolution has favored irrational group-loyalty (for basically the same reasons) over periods extending long before the development of the state, so that such traits are largely hardwired. One might work with, rather than against, such hardwired traits by trying replace loyalty to the state with other forms of irrational group loyalty (to a religion, a philosophy, a leader) but it’s not clear that’s much of an improvement.

UPDATE: Science fiction writer Sarah Hoyt emails:

I was thinking about this today at breakfast, actually, because I’m plotting my second space opera for Baen (no, first hasn’t come out yet) which involves a revolution — and wondering if a lot of the blind partisanship as well as the tendency for people to fall into cult of personality (No, not a new thing, recall attachment to Washington in revolutionary times) aren’t evolutionary remnants.

I think humans were designed by evolution to be loyal to a small group, a “tribe” (though most groups when humans were evolving were smaller than most tribes. Somewhere between extended family and clan) and for reasons of cohesion within the tribe to fall into hierarchical order — i.e. to be loyal to the “big man.”

I think this is responsible both for people’s tendency to fall in with the opinions of their social group seemingly without thought and for the “celebrity president” thing (Yes, Obama is perhaps the most obvious celebrity president, but Reagan had a bit of that to — and used it.)

In the light of this, a government like the US’s — of ideals and laws — seems like an aberration that goes against our evolutionary urges. So how we survive is a puzzle, and the visceral hatred so many of our citizens have towards the constitution and which most of the world has towards us is no longer surprising.

We are the muties… :) Must be brought back down to normalize the species.

Very consistent with what I was trying to say above, with an interesting twist.

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