November 10, 2007

"Steve Wilson" would be a good name for a writer on evolution

Just as "Steve" is a notoriously common first name among people who write about evolution and genetics, "Wilson" is big in the human sciences.

For decades, David Sloan Wilson has been fighting against the "selfish gene" orthodoxy in the "levels of selection" debate in evolutionary theory, arguing that "group selection" also frequently occurs. That never struck me as outlandish -- after all, if you look at modern Tasmania, for example, one group (Europeans) appears to have been selected for and another group (Tasmanians, who now exist only in a limited number off mixed race individuals) got themselves rather decisively selected against. Same with the late Chatham Islanders who were wiped out by the Maoris.

The English, for instance, cooperated with each other much better than did the American Indians. (Most of your famous Indian chiefs were politicians or religious leaders or both who were exceptions to this rule: they could temporarily overcome the notorious fractiousness of the Indians. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, by way of example, won undying fame by getting 1,500 braves to show up at the same place at the same time.) And that's a big reason why there are so many more people of English descent in North America than people of American Indian descent. Or to put it in selfish gene terms, that's why there are so many more English gene variants than American Indian alleles around these days.

William D. Hamilton didn't seem to object much to group selection, but his famous expositor Richard Dawkins has, perhaps because it raises the R-word.

But now Edward O. Wilson, the grand old man of evolutionary theory, has teamed up with the other Wilson to write an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology summarized in New Scientist propounding multi-level (e.g., group) selection:
RETHINKING THE THEORETICAL FOUNDATION OF SOCIOBIOLOGY
EO Wilson & DS Wilson

Abstract:
Current sociobiology is in theoretical disarray, with a diversity of frameworks that are poorly related to each other. Part of the problem is a reluctance to revisit the pivotal events that took place during the 1960s, including the rejection of group selection and the development of alternative theoretical frameworks to explain the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. In this article, we take a "back to basics" approach, explaining what group selection is, why its rejection was regarded as so important, and how it has been revived based on a more careful formulation and subsequent research. Multilevel selection theory (including group selection) provides an elegant theoretical foundation for sociobiology in the future, once its turbulent past is appropriately understood.:

They say:

"The old arguments against group selection have all failed. It is theoretically plausible, it happens in reality, and the so-called alternatives actually include the logic of multilevel selection. Had this been known in the 1960s, sociobiology would have taken a very different direction. It is this branch point that must be revisited to put sociobiology back on a firm theoretical foundation. Accepting multilevel selection has profound implications. It means we can no longer regard the individual as a privileged level of the biological hierarchy..."

In that noted science journal, the Huffington Post, Dan Agin offers some rather overheated commentary on the purported liberal political implications:

The selfish-gene mantra of conservative psychologists and columnists is now more or less dead. Will we see the public media focus on this new development? There will be die-hards. There are people who don't like the idea that society is as important as genes in determining behavior. They don't like the idea that nature can select societies as well as individuals.

Okay, but the idea that "nature can select societies as well as individuals" isn't necessarily terribly "progressive." It was a favorite notion of, among many others, Mr. A. Hitler.

The good news is that conquering land really doesn't pay these days, so peace has become, from a group-selectionist point of view, more rational than in the past. The bad news is that if we don't need to team up to go conquer the other group's land before they conquer ours, then large-scale cooperativeness might be outdated, and the level of most effective selection drops down to smaller groups. For example, Crazy Eddie's clan is doing very well in Darwinian terms in Brooklyn these days. (Remarkably, in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's classic 1973 sci-fi novel, "Crazy Eddie" is the exact opposite of Crazy Eddie the fraudulent hi-fi huckster -- "Crazy Eddie" is a legendary idealist character who counsels the ultra-Malthusian aliens in the book to institute controls on their population for the good of all!)

Somebody should find out what James Q. Wilson thinks of all this.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

22 comments:

Dis said...

"Okay, but the idea that 'nature can select societies as well as individuals' isn't necessarily terribly 'progressive.' It was a favorite notion of, among many others, Mr. A. Hitler."

And here I thought conservatives were tired of Hitler being mixed into sociobiology!

neil craig said...

I suspect the survival of the Tasmanins in mixed race descendents is exagerated. Up to 15,000 people now claim to have some Tasmanian blood but there are only a handful, if that, of aboriginal women, mostly kidnapped by sailors, who could possibly be their ancestors. Since that was hardly, even in Victorian times likely to produce a successful family, there was a very high death rate among aboriginies from diseases like smallpox, there is no clear recorded continuity & the "descendents" have reacted with anger to the suggestion of DNA testing I suspect this is merely a politically correct delusion.

I wish it were not so.

Topiary Utopia said...

The moties are among the best aliens in science fiction.

Also, The Tragedy of Group Selectionism.

rast said...

And then there's the "Steve Rule": http://weblogs.asp.net/alex_papadimoulis/archive/2005/04/22/403889.aspx
"In my personal experience, every group of programmers with fifteen or more always had more guys with the same name than women."

This applies also in advanced physics, math, engineering, etc. For example, in my computer science class this semester there are 16 students:
1 girl
3 guys named Matt
12 guys with other names.

Hiro Protagonist said...

A few comments:

1. If Dawkin's is afraid of "Ethnic Nepotism", then so is Greg Cochran. But you knew this already.

2. Group selection and race realism do not travel in tandem. Both Cochran and John Hartung ( he endorsed the work of Rushton and Herrnstein in a letter to the New York Times) have explicitly rejected group selection theories, while endorsing (and sometimes conducting) race research.

3. The results of historical conflicts you've referred to could just as well be due to genetic and cultural differences among populations that have nothing to do with self sacrifical altruism (or ethnic nepotism, which is something different). Hartung made this clear in "The Group Selection Chimera", which he wrote for Skeptic magazine in response to D.S. Wilson's work.

4. Dawkins has never endorsed the "race is a social construct" meme. On the Al Franken show, he referred to it as "complete rubbish". He's also defended James Watson recent comments. On the other hand, D.S. Wilson, Boyd/Richardson, and others sympathetic to group selection have be known to reject sociobiological theories of race.

5. Your implication of Dawkins as some kind of P.C. liberal is off the mark. He has spoke publicly about the power of the Israeli Lobby, defended Watson's past comments on race and homosexuality, condemned the recovered memory movement/SRA and child sex hysteria (which I might add, is far more likely to get one in trouble than talking about the dreaded "R word"; see Chris Brand's ordeal), and has made comments sympathetic to eugenics. Similar accusations have been made against Steven Pinker, which are also off the mark considering the fact that he has endorsed race research numerous times.

6. Once can believe in "Ethnic Nepotism", but reject genetic group selection (which D.S. Wilson and E.O. Wilson support), as Frank Salter has. Also, while Hamilton was sympathetic to Rushton's work, and the idea of Ethnic Nepotism, he rejected group selection. He even wrote that he thought Kevin MacDonald was incorrect in his theories becuas he felt that while Jews had a procvility for "math and logic", Macdonald's use of group selection was too reductionist.

dearieme said...

I once came across an explanation offered by an Indian of how such tiny numbers of Britons managed to conquer and then peacefully rule India. The British didn't betray each other.

PRCalDude said...

Steve,

Check this out:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/us/11dna.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

it's the NY Times discussing DNA and race.

sinner said...

"The bad news is that if we don't need to team up to go conquer the other group's land before they conquer ours, then large-scale cooperativeness might be outdated, and the level of most effective selection drops down to smaller groups."

I don't think group cohesion is outdated at all unless you are willing to admit cultural if not genetic defeat. The substantial influence of relatively small minority groups is example of what group cohesion can accomplish. No one can honestly say that ethnic minorities and homosexuals don't wield dictatorial power in this country. Unless we find a rallying point, conservative, generally white Americans will have a limited number of survival strategies that might include a chameleon-like ability to mirror the values and manners of the dominant special-interest groups, joining one or another of them via marriage, internalization of their values or even isolation to avoid conflict.

It's beginning to look as if white Americans will go the way of the Tasmanians, the Maoris and the American Indians. But I don't think we're the victims of "group selection" as much as unnatural political oppression. The identity groups in this country wouldn't have any advantage over the rest of us if our own government wasn't actively imposing the will of such groups on the rest of us. Their only strength is their belief in a dogma that instructs them to ruthlessly attack people who don't share their values.

In order to counter the pernicious influence of what some call Cultural Marxism, we need a dogma that doesn't conflict with our various judeo-christian religions and ethnicities. And we need to be rabid defenders of it. But what will "it" be? Strict constitutionalism?

Or maybe idiots like David Agin will prevail with their "selected" nonwhite, non heterosexual societies just so they can learn the hard way like all revolutionaries who don't know what form their brave new world will take but are certain that it will be better than this one.

colin laney said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Arthur Keith yet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Keith

A better introduction, along with some online works, can be found here:

http://www.whitenationalism.com/etext/ak-intro.htm

Howard Bloom's book "The Lucifer Principle" correctly intuits most of the implications of the existence of group level selection, and provides a preliminarly reading of history and current events through this lens. The interactions of groups and memeplexes - especially Islam - are central to his thesis. Keith also understands the critical nexus of cultural-biologistic co-evolution, which contemporary scientists, who dream of finally reducing the whole universe to a finite set of physical causes, disdain.

Even with a green light from the cultural gatekeepers, I can't see anyone in current publishing or academia producing work as fundamentally accurate - that is, capable of description and prediction - as Keith and Bloom.

Therefore, for readers here who are interested in what the fact of group selection means, should investigate the works of these two authors. A helpful guide to group selection and its influence on history by James Wilson or Steven Pinker will *not* be forthcoming.

Indeed, I would be surprised if full throated talk about group level selection ever really takes hold; IMO too many successful practitioners of group evolutionary strategies hold too many informational chokepoints to permit real discussion. It's just too dangerous.

Michael Blowhard said...

All right! I've been rooting for Group Selection for years. Never fully understood why it became discredited. Great to see it making a return. Always seemed perfectly apparent to me that it happens. Look around you!

Evil Neocon said...

Steve -- My problem with your commentary is that you assume that the temporary blip of mutual MAD with the Soviet Union and the United States applies for all time moving forward.

That's just dumb. OF COURSE cooperation in conquering and holding territory, defending it, resources (including well people/legal systems/cultures etc) matter. They matter a whole lot.

If anything, the ease by which WMD technology applies means those nations/cultures which cooperate best to destroy nuclear threats will "win" by surviving and those who don't, won't.

Consider say, Spain. JUST AS I PREDICTED already Morocco is complaining about the King of Spain's visit to the Spanish Enclave in North Africa and making threatening noises about "reclaiming al-Andulus." Now currently Spain's security is bought and paid for by the US Navy, but absent that Spain faces an existential struggle between a larger, younger group for the same land, and who's culture/values/system will dominate.

What, suddenly Moroccans don't want money, land, slaves? Traditionally the way for unity among deeply divided Islamic societies has been to conquer outsiders -- many have compared Islamic societies to sharks that have to swim or die. The AK-47, speedboats, and "affordable" nukes with many proliferators make it easier to neutralize Western Nations industrial advantage.

Conceptually, there is no reason say Iran or Pakistan could not develop true ICBMs akin to what the defunct USSR had in 1965.

Fundamentally your assumption error is in thinking that the social world environment is stable when all evidence suggests it is extremely changeable, particularly under the continuing impact of widely distributed technology.

Conquering is not dead. It's not even resting: ask the Thais who face an open revolt and conquering mentality from Muslims in the South. Or the Filipinos who face various Islamists who have ambitions to conquer the whole nation with help from Indonesia. Or China which faces the Uzbek Islamist movement which seeks to add a great portion of Western China as part of a Central Asian Caliphate (they were blowing up Chinese in Xianxiang when I visited in 96). Or Islamists in Europe who are already demanding a separate society, laws, and flirting with declaring their own sovereignty.

Machiavelli thought poorly of "unarmed prophets" like Savonarola. I certainly don't see violent conquest obsolete -- if anything even easier absent the stasis of the Cold War and dual superpower leashes.

[Dawkins of course guilty of a grave logic error -- religion is selected for because it allows greater cooperation through shared belief in a "higher authority" and set of rules. Dawkins seems to believe that humans went from hunter-gatherers for five minutes to Western Societies for 100,000 years.]

peewee said...

I used to think it was computers that had an unusual proportion of Steves:
Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple)
Steve Jobs (CEO and co-founder of Apple)
Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft)
Steve Case (CEO of AOL)

Mark said...

The good news is that conquering land really doesn't pay these days, so peace has become, from a group-selectionist point of view, more rational than in the past.

Whether or not conquering land "pays," there is a pretty clear link between population density and birthrates, as even your own data show. This is true not only from nation to nation, but from state to state.

Conservatives in America tend to value having children, and end up moving to places where land is relatively cheap (a function mostly of density) so they can afford to have them.

Affordable land = higher birthrates.

Italy and Korea both have notoriously low birthrates. If both nations doubled their size tomorrow you could be sure an increase in the birthrate would soon follow.

gcochran said...

E. O. Wilson was never much of a theoretician, and it takes unusual situations for group selection to occur. It's usually a weak force compared to individual-level selection.


D. S. Wilson has never made any sense to me, while Howard Bloom is an idiot.

Anonymous said...

JUST AS I PREDICTED already Morocco is complaining about the King of Spain's visit to the Spanish Enclave in North Africa and making threatening noises about "reclaiming al-Andulus."

Morroco has threatened to "reclaim al-Andulus (sic)?" When did they do this??? Even if they have made that threat, what makes you think they are in any position to carry it out? When was the last time Muslims beat Westerners in a war? You need to calm down.

No one can honestly say that ethnic minorities and homosexuals don't wield dictatorial power in this country.
Uhhhhhhhh... I think I can honestly claim that this isn't so. I think we're a little ways away from pinkshirts roaming the streets in roving death squads torturing straight guys. Similarly, I don't think too many minorities suffering gentrification would agree with you about their wielding of dictatorial power (maybe they think that they white gays who are partly responsible for gentrifying their communities have some sort of dictatorial power, but that's because their white, not because their gay).
You white guys really need to take a deep breath and relax. You're not in trouble any time soon. As Chris Rock, who Steve likes to quote, said, "White people ain't losing sh**. If y'all are losing, who's winning?"

Mark said...

Morroco has threatened to "reclaim al-Andulus (sic)?" When did they do this??? Even if they have made that threat, what makes you think they are in any position to carry it out? When was the last time Muslims beat Westerners in a war?

Have you even been paying attention? They are reconquering it - not through war, but through immigration and births.

"White people ain't losing sh**. If y'all are losing, who's winning?"

Ummm, let's see: the Hispanic population of my state climbed 140% between 1990 and 2000. Since then the rate of increase has only gone up.

40 years ago whites made up nearly 90% of the US population. Today it's somewhere down around 65%.

Mark said...

You white guys really need to take a deep breath and relax. You're not in trouble any time soon.

If you compared the size and distribution of the European-derived population from 1500 to 2000, you'd say "Wow! Whites really cleaned up."

If you compared the size and distribution of the European-derived population from 1500 to what it's projected to be in 2050, you'd say "Wow! Whites have been devastated."

Not only are the European peoples being overrun in the very lands they conquered - they're being overrun in their lands of origin, as well, and it's all because of traitorous politicians, radical Marxists, greed, and really, really dumb ideas.

Britain alone has seen more changes to its population from the last century of "immigration" than it did from the prior 2,000 years of "conquest."

ben tillman said...

E. O. Wilson was never much of a theoretician, and it takes unusual situations for group selection to occur. It's usually a weak force compared to individual-level selection.

D. S. Wilson has never made any sense to me


The basic point you need to grasp is that a belief in "individual" selection entails a belief in "group" selection, because (for example) "individual" humans are themselves groups of lower-level units.

Steve Sailer said...

Indeed. Robert Trivers wrote a book a year or two ago illustrating how the selfish gene principle applies within the genome itself as different parts of the genetic code stab each other in the back. It was a lot like reading about how the officers of Enron were ripping off the stockholders. Most of the time, it's useful to think of individual companies as the "level of selection" in business economics, but sometimes you have to think about the self-interest of individuals within the companies.

colin laney said...

D. S. Wilson has never made any sense to me, while Howard Bloom is an idiot.

Mr. Cochran,

Not to directly condtradict your opinion of Howard Bloom, but I thought it would merely be fair to the author in question if I were to mention that Elizabeth Loftus, Martin Gardner, Howard Gardner, Robin Fox, Matt Ridley, and David Sloan Wilson, among others, take the opposing view about the quality of his intellect and are, to varying degrees, enthusiasic about his work. Anyone here is free to go to Mr. Bloom's site and check the "Reviews" tab for The Lucifer Principle if they are curious.

http://www.howardbloom.net/lucifer/reviews.html

Also, you neglected to mention your opinion of Arthur Keith's work. He seems quite prescient to me. Am I missing something?

AG said...

Wrong assumption about English with group selection over indians. English royal empire is about productivity, which treat human being like domesticated animal. American indians are equal to wild zebra, which have little use. Domesticated or civilized people are like horses, which are useful. In case of human, domesticated human beings are taxable. Your idea of groups selections are more relevant in tribal society.

Anonymous said...

Just a few comments, The magazine New Scientist is not a peer-reviewed scientific publication like Nature or Science, It's basically a science news magazine with a strong left-wing slant and has been for all I know since it's founding. Furthermore, Edward O. Wilson is not a theoretical biologist, but as you pointed out Steve, a synthesizer. Wilson is a empirical biologist with an interest in theory. So for some lefty blogger to get all riled up and claim that selfish gene theory is now dead, because an empirical biologist and philosopher of biology wrote non peer-reviewed paper in non peer-reviewed magazine is just a demonstration of how badly people on the left desire that science conform to non-Darwinian political ideology. I can't imagine George C. Williams and Robert Trivers are losing any sleep over it. Hilarious!!!