The Human Nature for Asymmetric Politics

Two Eyes for an Eye: The Neuroscience of Force Escalation,” by Sukhwinder Shergill et al, Science, 11 July 2003, Vol 301, Vol. 301 p 187, http://hera.ucl.ac.uk/sml/publications/papers/SheBayFriWol03.pdf.

“Could Political Attitudes Be Shaped by Evolution Working Through Genes?,” by John Alford and John Hibbing, Tidsskriftet Politik, August 2006.

Two articles, an older one from Science and a new one from this month by John Hibbing, a leader in genetic factors in political behavior. The Hibbing article is essentially a re-presentation of his earlier findings that political beliefs are heritable, with the proviso that political beliefs do not correlate with personality, or as Hibbing and his co-writer John R. Alford say:

Political temperament is not indicated by an individual’s reactions to a social situation but rather is indicated by preferences for the organization of the social interactions occurring within the group whether the individual is directly involved or not. This is why it is more difficult to devise experiments to test for political temperament than it is to test for social temperament. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 13)

The other article is only one page, and short enough for all of its notes to be presented above the fold:

Across the six pairs, there was a significant (F1,5 =12.1, P = 0.05) average increase of 3.2 N over the eight turns corresponding to a 38% mean escalation on each turn. The increase was also significant (P= 0.05) within every pair of participants. Thus, force escalation occurs rapidly even under instructions designed to achieve parity. (Shergill 2003 187).

This observation suggests that self-generated forces are perceived as weaker than externally generated forces of the same magnitude. (Shergill 2003 187).

When the force was generated via the joystick, the reproduced force matched the original force much more accurately [Fig. 1B (0)]. (Shergill 2003 187).


This vision of all humans possessing a relatively standard, genetically-shaped, Swiss-Army Knife collection of behavioral modules designed for successful preservation of offspring and kin in hunter-gatherer life of the Pleistocene (but often oddly out of place in modern mass society) is a caricature of evolutionary psychology. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 2)

Recent studies unveil evidence of positive genetic selection (in behaviorally relevant genes) within the last 8-12,000 years—approximately the time when agriculture was developed in the fertile crescent of southwest Asia and only slightly later in China and then southern Europe (see Voight et al. 2006; Rockman et al. 2005). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 3)

Emotions, phobias, and perceptions of beauty and color all seem to be remarkably similar across all cultures (Brown 1991). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 5)

Moreover, it ignores the fact that computer simulations demonstrate the advantages of conspecifics with distinct behavioral tendencies such as cooperator and defector (Hammond 2000) or hero and communitarian (Smirnov et al. 2006). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 5)

Though an individual’s genetic code remains essentially constant throughout a lifetime, genes are activated (expressed) in some circumstances but not others and, due to complex interactions of numerous genes (and their respective environmental touchstones) the same environmental stimulus will not always activate a given gene. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 7)

Like most things in the world, genes work probabilistically, yet many unfamiliar with genetics seem to believe that genes operate in a deterministic fashion, that all genetic alleles have a penetrance of 1.0 and no variation in expressivity. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 7)

Caspi found that those with the short version of 5-HTT are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions such as whether or not they experienced an abusive childhood. Individuals with short alleles were only marginally more depressed overall but they were substantially less resilient in the face of unfavorable environmental conditions. The combination of one or two short alleles and an abusive childhood rendered depression quite likely (though still far from a certainty). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 8-9)

The interaction of genetics and the environment (GxE) increases the odds of a certain behavioral phenotype being manifested. The natural science community has long recognized that nature and nurture work together, but in the social sciences, scholars still try to construct an adversarial relationship. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 9)

Of course, people differ in all sorts of ways, not just with regard to political orientations. It is useful to divide these differences into personal temperament, social temperament and political temperament. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 12)

Indeed, scholars have often believed there to be conservative (McCloskey, 1958) or authoritarian (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1981; 1996) personalities (see also Bouchard 1997; Bouchard and Loehlin 2001) and we also initially assumed personality was the link connecting genes and politics, as is apparent in the following quote: “Genes influence people’s outlooks and personalities, and it is these broad features that then predispose individuals toward suites of specific attitudes” (Alford, Funk, and Hibbing 2005: 164). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 14)

Further probing casts doubt on the notion that politics is purely a byproduct of personality. As mentioned above, the five central aspects of personality have been found to be strongly heritable. Specifically, a large-scale meta-analysis places the heritability coefficients at .42 for agreeableness, .46 for conscientiousness, .49 for neuroticism, .53 for extraversion, and .54 for openness (computed from Bouchard and McGue 2003: 23). Interestingly, however, the central components of personality are largely unrelated to political views (liberal versus conservative). Four of these five relationships fail to achieve statistical significance. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 14-15)

Political orientation (liberal or conservative) is not a significant predictor of social behavior as measured in economic game play (Fehr et al. 2002). (Alford and Hibbing 2006 15)

Given that humans lived in small-scale social units for hundreds of thousands of years, genes relating to personal and social sensitivities are probably highly conserved, but the genes pertinent specifically to life in large-scale social units—that is, those connected to preferences for the organization and conduct of mass-level group life—may be among those giving evidence of relatively recent positive selection. Formulating norms, rules, statutes, and constitutions with no known individual in mind is quite different than interacting with well-known individuals in a single small band.(Alford and Hibbing 2006 16)

The point is that, though political ideologies such as liberal and conservative may be fairly independent of the genes that have been connected to personal temperament, other important political variables such as the tendency to participate in the pushing and shoving of the political arena are likely to be strongly related to genes such as DRD4 and 5-HTT. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 16-17)

Fixed diversity (that is, different types) in groups often has the advantage over universal flexibility. Different personalities and political temperaments may similarly make for stronger groups. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 17)

If, however, orientation is partially genetic and only partially environmental, a preferable way to tap it is to pose questions that are less culturally specific. Possibilities include attitudes toward leadership, toward punishment of rules violators, toward out-groups, and toward traditional values. Ten examples of such items are presented below.

Society works best when…(choose one)
people realize the world is dangerous or
people initially assume all those in far away places are kindly.

leaders are obeyed or
leaders are questioned.

people are rewarded equally or
people are rewarded according to their abilities.

people compromise with their opponents in order to get things done or
people adhere to the principles they cherish no matter what.

people live according to traditional values or
people adjust their values to fit changing circumstances.

people take primary responsibility for their own welfare or
people join together to help others.

it speaks with one voice or
it speaks with many voices.

people recognize the flaws of human nature or
people recognize that humans can be changed in positive ways.

behavioral expectations are based on an eternal code or
behavioral expectations are allowed to evolve over the decades.

those who break the rules are punished or
those who break the rules are forgiven if they are authentically sorry.
(Alford and Hibbing 2006 18-19)

The issue of punishment changes from whether a fellow tribe member, known to you since birth, should be punished for stealing from the village stores to the nature of general and broadly applied rules of punishment no matter who the accused happens to be. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 19-20)

Those presented with an ideologically-laden subliminal stimulus, such as the word foreigner flashed more quickly than the visual cortex can handle, should show differential physiological reactions (galvanic skin response, for example) depending upon their political orientation. We are currently in the process of designing and testing physiological measurement procedures of this type. (Alford and Hibbing 2006 20)

Synthesizing Stephen J. Gould’s Beloved Punctuated Equilibrium with Stephen J. Gould’s Detested Evolutionary Psychology

Alas, poor Man! Perhaps no other animal has suffered as he! These thousands of years have seen disaster upon disaster. No matter how far homo sapiens wandered, and no matter what tools they would make, their tribes were pursued and persecuted. No sooner was some spandrel or the other adapted into a functional module than another calamity befell them. The first creature in all time to be pursued by an adaptive killing machine composed of intelligent, networked agents, Man no sooner earned some rest from the death squads but that the ecological equilibrium would be punctuated again, and new and more deadly enemies would appear. Wherever he ran, Man was pursued by Man.

In my last reaction paper I expressed surprised that Buller would attack Pinker’s use of the term “species” to mean humanity-as-it-exists, rather than the sum of all our relatives since our last common ancestor 150,000 years ago (443). I now understand that Buller attacked Pinker because a variation in the definition of “species” would allow Gouldian analysis to be used in defense of Evolutionary Psychology (EP).


Gould writes

“The extended stability of most species, and the branching off of new species in geological moments (however slow by the irrelevant scale of human life) — the pattern known as punctuated equilibrium — require that long-term evolutionary trends be explained as the distinctive success of some species versus others, and not as a gradual accumulation of adaptations generated by organisms within a continuously evolving population.
Buller’s (and Gould’s) definition of “species” limits multilevel evolution to competition between groups that have been separated for longer than a “geological moment.” A trait-centered view of “species,” however, makes Gouldian analysis complementary to EP.

Gould’s dangerous ideas is that most species change very rapidly. Change often results from a “catastrophic” extinction” (108) that goes beyond any natural disasters this world can generate (107). The human characteristic of coalitionary violence is a vehicle for such catastrophes. Humans, along with Chimpanzees (Wrangham 3) and Wolves (4), are the only mammals where most violence is pro-social. Any qualitative improvement in human cognition could mean a new a wave of the deluge, leading to the rapid, violent, and near complete replacement of one human population by another. This is impossible if “species” is defined as Buller and Gould mean, but trivial is we apply Pinker’s definition to Gould’s punctuated equilibrium.

If this is true, we should see relics of these punctuations, as one may see different levels of drift refuse in a lake whose depths rise and fall. And indeed, we find these. Genes relating to personality are much older than genes relating to political persuasion (Alford and Hibbbing 2006 16). It may be the case that the “multiple, stable behavioral types” demonstrated in laboratory experiments (Kurzban and Houser 1805; Smith et al 6), and which extend to life-threatening types observed in the wild (Caspi et al 389), are each the result of a new equilibrium after a genetic punctuation. Likewise, saying ” a political system based on empathy” is a “dangerous new idea” (Baron-Cohen) may be factually correct if large-scale institutions are governed by systemic rules while small-scale groups or governed through empathetic heuristics because different scales of cooperation evoke different modules that were evolved at different times.

A testable hypothesis can be built from this. Homo sapiens is not fully eusocial as it does not contain anatomically distinct castes (Wilson and Holldobler 13367), yet the existence of coalitionary violence in human and primate populations means that a condition that can begin a species on the road to eusociality — common enemies (13370) — existed in human bonds. Cooperation improves the efficiency of exterminating other bands (Sapolsky), so human bands may have been both the subject and object of eusocial competition. If the nature of man as a devastation-engine equates to an equilibrium-punctuating processor, then one can expect recent Gouldian adaptations in the human genome (see Hamock and Young for details on implementation). The best predictor of complexity among eusocially-oriented animals is community size (Wilson and Holldobler 13370), therefore, If Gouldian ‘punctuated equilibrium’ has been recently operating on the human species, humans should have specific adaptations relating to large community size. For instance, consider a module that dampens empathy when punishment is just (e.g., Singer et al). One may hypothesize that different modules will be invoked when witness the punishment of a large group as opposed to a small group, as large groups emerged later (along with a different punctuation) than small groups. Thus, the emotional state of subjects who witness punishment must be discontinuous as “justly” punished populations vary in size, because different modules that evolved at different times would be evoked depending on the size of the punished group. If this is observed, it supports recent and repeated “punctuated equilibria” in human evolution.

Social Teaching Strategies

The College Classroom from the Perspective of Cognitive Psychology,” by Rogert Bruning, in Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications, 1995, http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-College-Teaching-Applications-Collection/dp/0313281424.

“Teaching Dialogically: Its Relationship To Critical Thinking in College Students,” by Susan Reiter , in Student Motivation, Cognition, and Learning, 1994.

Notes on two chapters, including one by a UNL faculty (and a co-academic of the man I profiled Coming Anarchy under). While reading these articles, I was especially curious for any similarities to evolutionary psychology or to classroom democracies.

“Social communities are perhaps the only effective way in which ‘dispositions for thinking’ can be shaped.” (Bruning 1995 4)

“A community-of-learners approach to developing cognitive abilities also adds to the motivation to perform intellectually. Until very recently, research in cognitive psychology had emphasized ‘cold cognition’ — the processes of learning, comprehension, problem solving, and decision making. Newer models include not only purely cognitive processes but also motivational ones (e.g. Ames & Archer 1998, Dweck and Legget 1989, Pintrich 1990, Schallert 1991).” (Bruning 1995 5)


“Unlike the associationist-behavioral view, which focused on environmental influences on behavior or “conditions of learning. cognitive psychology seeks to understand the mind’s structures and processes (Bruning 1995 3)

“Just as there was faith in the ability to generalize from simple to complex learning, there was faith in the continuity between animals and humans — that principles derived from study of the former would contyribute to our understanding of the latter.” (Bruning 1995 5)

“This recognition has come from pedagogical trial and error than as a deducation from cognitive theory; the most successful programs for developing critical thought have been those involving social interaction.” (Bruning 1995 4)

“Large domain-specific networks of knowledge are necessary, but not sufficient, for effective problem solving. Knowledge becomes fully functional only when it is linked to actions — proceduralized — and these actions become automatic. In our college classes, we need to aim beyond simply imparting knowledge. Teachers need to help students discuss and clarify meaningful information, critique their own and others’ thinking, and express their thoughts in letters and papers.” (Bruning 1995 8)

“Schemata are hypothesized mental frameworks that give organization to incoming information, that guide attention and perception, and that limit or enhance the leaner’s ability to understand information.” (Bruning 1995 8)

“Rumelhart (1991) has outlined several features of schemata. First, schemata can contain a wide variety of information, from simple to highly complex. Second, the information in schemata is organized in hierarchical fashion. Third, schemata drive the interpretations that individuals make of their experiences. And fourth, schemata contain slots, some of which have fixed values and some of which have optional values,” (Bruning 1995 8)

“In a prototype of empirical research that used the framework of schema theory, Pichert and Anderson (1977) had individuals read a description of a house from either the perspective of a prospective home buyer or a burglar.” (Bruning 1995 9)

“No general problem-solving approach, no matter how potent, appears to be able to substitute for specific knowledge about the topic in question — that is, for so-called domain-specific knowledge.” (Bruning 1995 9)

“Domain knowledge often is further grouped into two subcategories: declarative knowledge (knowledge of the semantic information about the domain, or “knowledge of what”) and procedural knowledge (knowledge that links declarative knowledge to specific performances of domain-related tasks, or “knowledge of how” — the ability to turn declarative facts and concepts into action).” (Bruning 1995 10)

“On the other hand, cognitive research has made it clear that our cognitive systems have severe limitations. Humans can basically pay attention to only one thing at a time.” (Bruning 1995 10)

“We interact with the world in a very flexible, adaptive way, not on the basis of inflexible, computer-like algorithms. Our cognitive system, we find, is at its best in helping us adapt to a world in which information often is imprecise, sometimes even conflicting.” (Bruning 1995 2-3)

“Using cooperative learning and shared work may require a fair degree of readjustment in our thinking; college teachers have traditionally honored individual achievement, and individual achievement only. However, many cognitive processes — such as thinking strategically, giving reasons, clearly expressing ideas and justifying them, and writing and speaking effectively — can only develop in a social context, in a community of learners that applies community-process criteria.” (Bruning 1995 19)

“Educational research has yet to substantiate which specific types of direct critical thinking methods are most effective for college students.” (Reiter 276)

“It incorporates mayn specific recommendations in the critical thinking literature, including (1) electing multiple perspectives through instructor questioning [refs] (b) requiring that students weigh various alternatives through role-playing techniques [refs] and (c) asking students to devise arguments against positions that they favor (Brookefield, 1987, Deloz 1986).” (Reiter 276)

“In summary, the two-way interaction data suggest that the treatment works only with students who report that they are highly motivated.” (Reiter 299)

“Therefore, underling beliefs in course task value may shape a student’s decision to engage in dialogical instruction, and enhance or diminish its effect on his or her critical thinking.” (Reiter 301)

“The perception by students that course tasks used in dialogical instruction have little utility or value may lead to student apathy and disengagement. Instead of creating dissonance within the student, the student may simply remain disengaged and unmoved by stimulus.” (Reiter 302)

“Quellmalz (1987) suggests that in order for classroom inquiry approaches (like dialogical instruction) to be succssful, student smust be engaged in ‘sustained inquiry,’ if they are to acquire ‘strategic patterns’ in critical thinking (p. 95). Sustained inquiry may entail infusing dialogical instruction, at some level, as part of every class period (eg, asking students to being ecah class period by stating a position and then articulating an opposing one).” (Reiter 302)

“Extrinsic rewards for demonstraing critical thinking should be carefully considered when using direct critical thinking interventions like dialogical instruction. Clearly, it sends one message to students to encourage dialogical thinking in class discussions. It sends quite another to also require dialogical thinking skills ont he assignments, papers, projects, and exams that constitute a student’s final grade.” (Reiter 303)

“Based on instructor logs and videotypes of treatment semester instruction, student participation seemed to rise rather than fall after role modeling sessions, whether handled awkardly or well.” (Reiter 305)

Chinese Korea or Greater Korea

When North Korea Falls,” by Robert Kaplan, Atlantic Monthly, October 2006, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200610/kaplan-korea (see commentary on Coming Anarchy, DPRK Studies, Left Flank, and ruNK, full text at Marmot’s Hole).

When I led recitations for International Relations last year, I gave a brief lecture to my class

“You will care about your neighbors as long as you live by them
You will care about anyone else until they get bored.

Countries can’t move.

Countries will care about their neighbors forever.
Countries will care about other countries until they get bored.”

On that theme, I am very greatful to Eddie of Live from the FDNF for mailing me (and Mark, I suspect) the complete text of Robert Kaplan’s article on the fall of Pyongyang:

The concluding paragraphs are the most relevant

But South Korea also provides a lesson in what can be accomplished with patience and dogged persistence. The drive from the airport at Inchon to downtown Seoul goes through the heart of a former urban war zone. South Korea’s capital was taken and retaken four times in some of the most intense fighting of the Korean War. Korean men and women who lived through that time will always be grateful for what retired U.S. Army Colonel Robert Killebrew has called American “stick-to-itiveness,” without which we would have little hope of remaining a great power.

In the heart of Seoul lies Yongsan Garrison, a leafy, fortified Little America, guarded and surrounded by high walls. Inside these 630 acres, which closely resemble the Panama Canal Zone before the Americans gave it up, are 8,000 American military and diplomatic personnel in manicured suburban homes surrounded by neatly clipped hedges and backyard barbecue grills. I drove by a high school, baseball and football fields, a driving range, a hospital, a massive commissary, a bowling alley, and restaurants. U.S. Forces Korea and its attendant bureaucracies are located in redbrick buildings that the Americans inherited in 1945 from the Japanese occupiers. Korea is so substantial a military commitment for us that it merits its own, semiautonomous subcommand of PACOM—just as Iraq, unofficially anyway, merits its own four-star subcommand of CENTCOM.

The United States hopes to complete a troop drawdown in South Korea in 2008. Having moved into Yongsan Garrison when Korea’s future seemed highly uncertain, American troops plan to give up this prime downtown real estate and relocate to Camp Humphreys, in Pyongtaek, thirty miles to the south. The number of ground troops will drop to 25,000, and will essentially comprise a skeleton of logistical support shops, which would be able to acquire muscles and tendons in the form of a large invasion force in the event of a war or a regime collapse that necessitated a military intervention.

Patience and dogged persistence are heroic attributes. But while military units can be expected to be heroic, one should not expect a home front to be forever so. And while in the fullness of time patience and dogged persistence can breed success, it is the kind of success that does not necessarily reward the victor but, rather, the player best able to take advantage of the new situation. It is far too early to tell who ultimately will benefit from a stable and prosperous Mesopotamia, if one should ever emerge. But in the case of Korea, it looks like it will be the Chinese.

We will not care about Korea forever. Pretending we will sets us up for a big mistake. Not only are Americans not imperialists (thank heaven!), we are far away.

North Korea’s neighbors will care about northern Korea forever. Beijing and Seoul will care about northern Korea forever.


To the Chinese People’s Collective or the Greater Korean Republic?

So, should we build a future worth creating for northern Koreans by changing facts that will will build either a Chinese Korea or a Greater Korean Republic? How do we choose between a Zhongua Hanguo and a Daihan Minguk?

With news that North Korea has become a South Korean satellite, it looks like “Greater Korea” is already here. It’s in part a Stalinist dictatorship. It is going the wrong way.

America should support Chinese designs in North Korea, and the overthrow of the “Kim Family Regime” by a pro-Beijing government. It may be better than a Untied Nuclear Leftist Korea any day.